Marquette Golden Eagles (8-4, 0-1 Big East) vs RV Connecticut Huskies (9-3, 0-1 Big East)
Date: Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Justin Lewis, 15.3 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 7.8 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 5.8 apg
Connecticut Stats Leaders
Points: R.J. Cole, 16.0 ppg
Rebounds: Andre Jackson, 8.1 rpg
Assists: R.J. Cole, 4.5 apg
Game Projection: UConn has a 61% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 73-70.
So Far This Season: Things started out pretty well this year for Connecticut. They had a preseason Associated Press poll ranking of #24 and then opened up the year with five straight wins, capped with a double overtime victory against Auburn in the Battle 4 Atlantis. After a narrow loss to Michigan State in the semifinals of that event, they popped off another three wins to move to 8-1 on the year.
Things have turned since then, as they went to West Virginia and lost by three and lost their Big East opener at home to Providence by four. In the middle of those two, they beat St. Bonaventure on a neutral floor.
There is, at least a little bit, of an explanation for UConn’s problems. Tyrese Martin, a 6’6” forward averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds a game, missed four games this season already, including the WVU game. He played for the first time since Atlantis in the PC game this past Saturday and was.... fine. 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting, five rebounds, and an assist. Big man Adama Sanogo started UConn’s first eight games of the season, but he has not played since their win over Maryland Eastern Shore on November 30th due to an abdominal strain and thus missed both the WVU game and the Providence game. The 6’9” native of Mali is averaging 15.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game.
Tempo Free Fun: It would appear that this game is going to come down to rebounding.
Marquette is a mediocre rebounding team on the defensive end of the court and a bad rebounding team on the offensive end. We can debate whether or not Shaka Smart is abandoning offensive rebounds in favor of getting back on defense if you want, but the fact of the matter is that KenPom says MU ranks #317 in the country at getting second chances. That’s bad. UConn is not an outstanding defensive rebounding team, but if MU is going to be bad at it, then the Huskies aren’t really going to have to do much to have a good game in that department.
As for MU’s defensive rebounding..... well. Okay, look, there’s nothing particularly wrong with ranking #185 in the country in defensive rebounding. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, either. Marquette’s pretty good at defending shots, so if you let the other guys get an extra try here and there in exchange for forcing a bad shot in the first place, so be it, I guess. HOWEVER, Connecticut is the 10th best offensive rebounding team in the country by way of rate according to KenPom. Over 38% of their own misses end up back in a Husky’s hands for a second chance, and well, that’s pretty helpful in having a top 40 offense.
The good news is that UConn isn’t a terrific shooting team to start with. #183 in effective field goal percentage where they are actually under 50% on the year, #136 in three-point shooting, and a starting to border on “wait, is this bad?” #204 in two-point shooting. Now, merely having a lot of misses to rebound doesn’t make them a better offensive rebounding team by itself. Their #10 ranking is because of the percentage of the misses that they gather up, not by just the total. But it wouldn’t be crazy to think that head coach Dan Hurley has them crashing the boards a bit harder because he knows that they’re not a great shooting team.
If you’re looking for optimism in these departments, I would like to point out that the Huskies have been sliding downwards in both the shooting and offensive rebounding categories all season. Go take a peek at their T-Rank page, and shuffle through the graphs to see that slide. It’s definitely possible that the offensive rebounding slide has gotten more pronounced over the past four games because of the absence of Sanogo. He’s in the top 200 in the country in OR% on an individual level, and you can’t replicate that kind of production by merely asking guys to rebound harder.
Marquette’s attempts to balance their three-point shooting with going hard to the rim for buckets might hit a snag in this game as well. Even if Sanogo sits this one out since the Huskies won’t play again until December 28th, that still gives UConn a big ol’ stack of dudes who love to block shots. Sanogo is good, ranking #110 in block rate per KenPom. He has two teammates better than him in Isaiah Whaley and Akok Akok, both of whom are in the top 60. Akok has been the beneficiary of Sanogo’s minutes, as he has started each of the last four games and has managed to record 10 blocks in that time. Oh, and Andre Jackson is no slouch at #326 in the country in block rate. If the Golden Eagles are interested in trying to get to the rim and thus also the free throw line a little bit more, then that’s probably going to require a bit of body moving to get free space in the lane.
By the way: All of that shot blocking is probably a big reason why UConn is #5 in the country in two-point shooting percentage defense. If not the actual blocked shots, which go into the scorebook as missed shots, then merely the threat of the blocks is causing misses. There’s the shots that are altered as they happen because of the block attempts, sure, but also decisions before the shot attempt to avoid the blocker in the first place. A lower shot quality will generally speaking lead to a lower shooting percentage. Marquette is going to have to try and solve that riddle.
Or they could just shoot 50% on threes and just avoid the issue all together. Whichever one is easier.
Stat Watch: Kur Kuath is currently sitting in 10th place on the Marquette senior year blocked shots chart. He needs one to tie Mike Bargen for ninth and four to tie Marcus Jackson, Walter Downing, and Theo John for sixth. Since he has blocked five shots in a game three times already this season, we should probably point out that Kuath is five swats away from tying Ousmane Barro for fifth.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4, with losses in three of the last four and each of the last two.
Connecticut Last 10 Games: 7-3, with losses in two of the last three.
All Time Series: Marquette leads, 6-5.
Current Streak: Connecticut’s season sweep last year gave them two straight wins against the Golden Eagles after MU had won the last three meetings before the Huskies took their sabbatical from the Big East.
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