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Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs RV Connecticut Huskies

UConn makes their first ever trip to Fiserv Forum and their first trip to Milwaukee since the first day of 2013.

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Connecticut v Colorado Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (6-5, 2-3 Big East) vs Connecticut Huskies (4-1, 1-1 Big East)

Date: Tuesday, January 5, 2021
Time: 8pm Central
Location: A very empty Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Koby McEwen, 13.5 points/game
Rebounds: Dawson Garcia, 7.3 rebounds/game
Assists: D.J. Carton, 3.6 assists/game

Connecticut Stats Leaders

Points: James Bouknight, 23.2 points/game
Rebounds: Tyrese Martin, 9.3 rebounds/game
Assists: R.J. Cole, 3.8 assists/game

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #51
Connecticut: #38
Game Prediction: Marquette has a 54% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 70-69.

If You’ll Indulge Me: Marquette hasn’t played Connecticut in just over eight years. The current Marquette seniors couldn’t operate a car by themselves the last time these two teams played. The current Marquette freshmen weren’t even teenagers the last time these two teams hooked it up. This is the fifth straight school year with Marquette not having any students on campus who remember seeing the Golden Eagles face off against the Huskies in the past. Since that’s a lot of brand new Marquette fans who have no idea what the deal is with Connecticut, we’re going to lean a little bit more towards this preview looking like a preview of a non-conference opponent since this is the first meeting of the year. We’re going to learn a thing or two about UConn before we dive into actual basketball talk.

Name: University of Connecticut

Founded: 1881, like a bunch of copycats who want to be cool

Enrollment: 32,333 as of Fall 2019, with 23,900 undergraduates. For whatever reason, Connecticut makes a big deal of pointing out that their undergraduate enrollment count includes their School of Agriculture enrollment.

These People Sure Enjoy Their Dairy Products: Let me introduce you to the idea of the ONE TON SUNDAE, which is a “longstanding student tradition” in Storrs.

Hmmm. That’s an official UConn video. It did not seem very exciting.

Oh, this is a better look. They’re literally unwrapping multi-gallon containers and hucking them in a pile. That’s AWESOME.

I Guess Food Is A Big Deal At UConn: Just ask the guy who got arrested in 2015 for being drunk and VERY insistent about getting some bacon-jalapeno Mac & Cheese. Am I highlighting this because it’s funny or because it happened while UConn and Marquette were not in a conference together?? YOU DECIDE.

Oozeball?? In 1984, someone got the bright idea to start a mud volleyball tournament at UConn as a part of Spring Weekend. Why? I have no idea, but the Wikipedia page for this says that they play in EIGHT INCHES of mud. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun, but my lord does that sound like a good way to blow an ACL.

Nickname: Huskies

Why “Huskies?” The ol’ “survey in the student newspaper bit, which happened back in 1934. Why that was of particular interest to the majority of students at the time, that I can not help you with. They have been the Huskies longer than they have been the University of Connecticut, as they were Storrs Agricultural School for 8 years, Connecticut Agricultural College for 34 years, and Connecticut State College for six years before finally becoming the university of the state. They had just changed to CSC shortly before the nickname thing happened.

As a side note, the dog is named Jonathan in honor of Jonathan Trumbull, the governor of Connecticut during the Revolutionary War. The current live dog mascot is the 14th Jonathan, although there appears to be some debate over whether or not there actually was a ninth Jonathan.

As A Gesture Of Goodwill To Our UConn Friends: Send a tweet to @HomefieldApparl and ask them to put the sad dog on the joggers. Where? It doesn’t matter. On the hip, on the butt, in a small repeating pattern reminiscent of houndstooth (get it, hound’s tooth, dog print), whatever. Just ask nicely and politely.

Notable Alumni: World Series Champions Matt Barnes, Rollie Sheldon, and George Springer; Pulitzer Prize winning music critic Tim Page; musician Moby; Nobel Prize winning physicist David Lee; actor Ron Palillo, best known for his role as Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter; Basketball Hall of Famer Ray Allen, who once won an NBA Championship thanks in part to Marquette legend Dwyane Wade; former Wisconsin State Assemblyman Chuck Benedict; actress Meg Ryan; current United States Senator Chris Murphy; Super Bowl champion Nick Giaquinto; comedian Bobby Moynihan, famous for his nine year run on Saturday Night Live, but best known to Marquette fans for playing second fiddle to Danny Pudi on DuckTales; “Not That” George Harrison, former Senior VP of Marketing for Nintendo of America; Diana Taurasi, WNBA logo model and women’s hoops icon; Tansu Ciller, the 22nd Prime Minister of Turkey; and finally, Eric Naposki, football linebacker and convicted murderer.

Last Season: 19-12, with a 10-8 record in the American Athletic Conference, aka “the wasteland that they were condemned to for the past seven seasons.”

Final 2019-20 KenPom.com Ranking: #52

Final 2019-20 T-Rank Ranking: #56

This Season: 4-1 without playing a single game in a road environment. They’re 1-1 in Big East play after falling in overtime to the Creighton team that Marquette beat and clanking DePaul in the head in their most recent game back on December 30th.

Current 2020-21 KenPom.com Ranking: #38

Current 2020-21 T-Rank Ranking: #26

Head Coach: Dan Hurley, in his third season at Connecticut and 11th season as a Division 1 head coach. The former Seton Hall guard got his start at Wagner, going 38-23 in two years before snagging the Rhode Island job. The Rams were a perfectly fine Atlantic 10 program that hadn’t been to an NCAA tournament since 1999 and was coming off a down year when Hurley took over. After two sub-.500 years to start, Hurley won at least 17 games in his last four seasons in Kingston, including an A-10 tournament title in 2017 and a regular season conference title in 2018. He got the Rams to the second round of the NCAA tournament in both of those seasons before taking the UConn job to start the 2018-19 campaign.

All-Time Series: Marquette is 6-3 all time against Connecticut. All nine contests came while the two teams were in the Big East between 2005 and 2013. This will be just the second time in series history where neither team is ranked in the AP top 25, and just the fourth time that Connecticut is not ranked. I have edited this segment down from it’s original length, because I realized that there’s a whole bunch of y’all who have never seen Marquette play UConn, so there is a whole big retrospective on how great the limited run of the rivalry has been.

Tempo Free Fun: No matter whatever else we want to talk about in terms of relative strengths and weaknesses between the two teams, Marquette’s biggest concern in this game is James Bouknight. The 6’5” sophomore guard is currently ranked #6 in the country in KenPom.com’s Player of the Year calculations and is #11 in terms of “Best Available” on ESPN’s 2021 NBA Mock Draft. He is, as the kids say, a problem. Bouknight is primarily a scorer in terms of what MU has to watch out for, and UConn heavily relies on him every time down the court. He’s willing to shoot it from distance, averaging over six attempts per game, but he’s only hitting 33% of them this season and he’s just 5-for-16 in his first two Big East games.

Merely getting Bouknight to settle for three-pointers should be considered a victory on defense. Not only is it not his most efficient option, but he’s exceptional at drawing fouls when he’s going to the rim. The Brooklyn native is currently ranked #58 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, collecting a massive 6.7 per. He’s an 80% free throw shooter this year, so that’s a massive benefit to the Huskies’ offense as well.

Bouknight rebounds his position well enough to be considered dangerous on that angle, and his 11.7% assist rate is pretty damn great considering the volume of shots that he’s taking for UConn in the first place. He’s also not turnover prone, which means he’s just not making mistakes. Marquette doesn’t like to force turnovers, so it’s going to be hard to get Bouknight to create his own problems.

Getting Bouknight to settle for threes isn’t a simple job, of course. It’s not made easier by the fact that UConn really doesn’t like shooting threes as a team. They’re ranked #223 in the country in terms of what ratio of their shots are behind the arc. Dan Hurley is doing a pretty smart thing there because UConn is also pretty bad at shooting threes. They’re hitting just 32.4% of their shots from behind the arc this season, which falls under that 33.3% effective field goal percentage cut off. In their two Big East games so far, that number falls to 29.8%. Gambling on letting opponents shoot threes has not proven to be an effective strategy for Marquette this season, but maybe for one night it’s not the worst thing in the world.

If Marquette is going to gamble in that regard, they have to be ready to limit the Huskies to just one attempt. Connecticut is the second best offensive rebounding team in the country. 6’6” junior Tyrese Martin ranks #78 in the country in offensive rebounding rate per KenPom, and 6’9” senior Isaiah Whaley is #229. Josh Carlton and Adama Sanogo both have better offensive rebounding rates than Martin, but neither one has the minutes played to register amongst the national top 500. Second chances are pretty much the only reason why UConn is ranked in the top 40 in offensive efficiency, so cutting them off at one try per trip down the court has to be #2 on the scouting report to-do list after some variation on “shut down Bouknight.”

On the other end, the message has to be “get the ball inside.” Yes, there is Isaiah Whaley and his top 25 block rate to contend with. However, UConn is a terrible defensive rebounding team — which is weird given their abilities on the other end — and they’re straight up atrocious at letting teams get to the free throw line. But offensive rebounding and getting to the line have been strengths for Marquette this season, and the Golden Eagles need to capitalize on being good at things that Connecticut is bad at stopping. Given UConn’s wealth of tall gentlemen on the roster, that might make 6’7” Justin Lewis slightly less useful around the rim, but the Baltimore native has shown an ability to make his 7’2” wingspan pay off for him against larger competition. That may be the best option for MU in the paint, although Dawson Garcia’s agility and the combination of Theo John’s brute force and sweet hook shot probably need to play a notable role on offense in this one.

In more esoteric terms, Marquette kind of needs a win here. Beating Georgetown on Saturday didn’t really tell us anything about the Golden Eagles other than they were capable of rallying against what appears to be the worst team in the Big East. That’s not really a sparkling achievement, and the mere fact that MU was down 18 to that team in the first place is definitely not something to put on a banner. If the coaches and the players think they’re an NCAA tournament team — and wins over Creighton and Wisconsin definitely indicate the upper level of possible accomplishment here — then grinding out a win against a relatively comparable UConn team should be something that they can do. We’re entering a stretch of winnable games for Marquette, and if the Golden Eagles still want to be playing after Selection Sunday, they have to start stacking those W’s up. No better time than the present.

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