#25 Marquette Golden Eagles (13-4, 5-1 Big East) vs #6 Connecticut Huskies (15-2, 4-2 Big East)
Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Kam Jones, 16.1 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 6.4 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 8.0 apg
Connecticut Stats Leaders
Points: Adama Sanogo, 17.9 ppg
Rebounds: Adama Sanogo, 6.9 rpg
Assists: Andre Jackson, 4.8 apg
Game Projection: Connecticut has a 58% chance of victory with a predicted score of 75-73.
This Season So Far: We were really close to getting #1 ranked UConn in Fiserv Forum for this game. After starting off the year just a little bit outside the Associated Press top 25, the Huskies ripped off 14 straight wins to start the season. A little misleading, maybe, since they didn’t play a top 100 KenPom team until they got to the Phil Knight event over Thanksgiving weekend, and if you look at the two best teams in their first five games, neither was even in the top 200 at the time of the contest. But then they beat Oregon, Alabama, and Iowa State in succession across a four day span, and that jumped UConn into the top 10 of the AP poll at #8.
They kept on winning, beating Oklahoma State at home, and then Florida down in the O-Dome, and that bounced the Huskies up to #3 in the country. They would peak at #2, trailing along behind only #1 Purdue for a pair of weeks, and after starting out league play 3-0 against Butler, Georgetown, and Villanova, UConn finally took their first loss of the season on the road against Xavier. That was a Saturday loss, so they fell to #4 in the next poll, and that was followed by another road loss, this time to Providence. That’s how they landed at #6 coming into Milwaukee, although there was a home win against Creighton on Saturday so they’re not riding a losing streak right now.
Officially, Marquette is currently in front of the Huskies in the Big East standings, 5-1 vs 4-2. Still, 14-2 with your only two losses coming against teams that are a combined 11-0 in league action is nothing to complain about, and that’s why UConn is still a top 10 team in the poll.
Tempo Free Fun: Even with a pair of road losses in Big East action on their record right now, UConn is still a national championship contender, and a strong one at that. As of Tuesday morning, they’re top 10 in both offensive (#9) and defensive efficiency (#4) according to KenPom.com. Here is the full list of teams that can claim that right now:
- Houston, at #10 on offense and #2 on defense
- Kansas, at #8 on offense and #10 on defense
That’s it, that’s the list.
Everyone else in the offensive top 10 is no higher than 30th on the other end. UCLA just barely misses the conversation with the #6 defense and coming in at #11 on offense. If you wanted, you could even consider Alabama within shouting distance at #8 on defense and #18 offense because no one else in the defensive top 10 is closer than #31 on offense. They’re in elite company, and you could make an argument that everyone else is trailing behind Connecticut since they’re the only one in single digits for both departments.
The good news for Marquette is that they’re one of the teams that can go toe to toe with UConn at least one end of the floor. The Golden Eagles come in with the #6 offense in the country according to KenPom, so this game may just pure and simple be decided by which team wins when MU has the ball. If Marquette can hit cutters and open shooters for buckets like they want to and make smart plays with the ball to avoid turnovers, that’s probably going to work out well for them. The Huskies are elite at denying three-point attempts and assisted buckets this season (top 10 in both departments) and it’s not just because teams realized that they can attack UConn on the interior so they don’t shoot against them. Andre Jackson (#494 in the country) leads a quartet of UConn starters with a block rate north of 2% this season, so they will come for your shots if you don’t attack the rim with purpose. That doesn’t even include freshman big man Donovan Clingan, who has a block rate of — this is not a joke — 15% while playing in less than 35% of minutes. If he hit the 40% minimum for a national ranking from KenPom, Clingan would be #4 in the country.
The one catch to UConn being adept at stuffing your shot? They foul opponents a lot. Like bottom 25 in the country in free throw rate allowed a lot. There is a version of this game where Marquette’s motion and intent of motion on offense causes rotation problems for the Huskies and that puts them into perilous positions relative to shot blocking attempts and that turns into fouls instead. Starting center and Big East Player of the Year frontrunner Adama Sanogo is one of three Huskies averaging more than four fouls per 40 minutes of action. If the Golden Eagles can start putting multiple Huskies in foul trouble, that’s great news because that means they have to start being careful on defense. The primary problem with that? Marquette isn’t good at generating foul shot attempts. Part of that might be because the offense is designed to get open looks from long distance... but you’d think a team shooting 61% inside the arc and doing that while essentially never shooting anything outside of the lane would accidentally be better at getting to the line.
Speaking of things going on inside the paint, Marquette is going to have to figure out a way to slow down UConn’s rebounding efforts. I’m not too terribly worried about MU’s lack of interest in offensive rebounding as it hasn’t really affected their ability to score this season, and UConn’s a great defensive rebounding team anyway as you’d expect with Sanogo doing Sanogo things. The Golden Eagles’ biggest problem is going to be cracking down on second chances by the Huskies. They are a very good offensive rebounding team, pulling together nearly 35% of their misses overall this season, although that number has dipped under 31% in league play. Marquette is not a good defensive rebounding team, ranking #252 in the country overall and dead last in the Big East so far in conference play. Sanogo (#310 in the country) is doing damage on the offensive glass, and 6’8” freshman Alex Karaban is no slouch either. It’s not going to surprise you to find out that Donovan Clingan is an elite offensive rebounder, grabbing up misses at nearly twice the rate that Sanogo is.... but he just lacks the minutes to qualify for a national ranking. If he were playing 40% of UConn’s minutes, Clingan’s 18+% offensive rebounding rate would rank in the top 10 in the country.
It’s very bad news for Marquette that they are somehow in much bigger trouble when the current leader for Big East Player of the Year subs off the floor.
If Marquette can not slow down UConn on the offensive glass, then it’s going to be up to the team’s ability to generate deflections, specifically steals, to cut off the Huskies’ attack. UConn isn’t an elite team at holding onto the ball, but they are good, turning it over just 17% of the time overall this season. If the Golden Eagles can tilt that towards 20%, in the direction of their 22.5% defensive turnover rate in Big East action, that’s going to pay off in a big way, even more so if it turns into quick runouts for dunks and layups without the Connecticut defense getting set.
Stat Watch: Tyler Kolek is nine assists away from tying Dwyane Wade for the 10th most assists by a Marquette junior. Yes, that’s Final Four Year Dwyane Wade. Yes, Kolek is averaging eight assists per game.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2 with four straight wins and wins in seven of the last eight.
Connecticut Last 10 Games: 8-2, with a win on Saturday snapping a two game skid.
All-Time Series: Connecticut leads, 7-6
Current Streak: UConn’s season sweep a year ago gave the Huskies four straight victories over the Golden Eagles and the edge in the all time series.
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