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#10 Marquette Men’s Basketball Big East Preview Primer: at #21 Connecticut

The Golden Eagles head out east for one of the biggest challenges remaining on the schedule.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at DePaul
Look, we’re playing UConn on back-to-back days between MBB and WBB, we have to get interesting with the pictures here.
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

#10 Marquette Golden Eagles (19-5, 11-2 Big East) at #21 Connecticut Huskies (18-6, 7-6)

Date: Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Time: 5:30pm Central
Location: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Kam Jones, 15.7 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 6.0 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 7.9 apg

Connecticut Stats Leaders

Points: Adama Sanogo, 17.2 ppg
Rebounds: Adama Sanogo, 7.2 rpg
Assists: Andre Jackson, 4.5 apg Rankings

Marquette: #8
Connecticut: #6
Game Projection: Marquette has a 34% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 78-74 in favor of the Huskies.

Last Time Out: Marquette picked up the win in the Milwaukee end of this series back on January 11th. The final score in that one was 82-76, and MU was led by 19 points from Oso Ighodaro. The Golden Eagles gave up a 16-0 first half run to UConn in that one to fall behind by 11 with six minutes left before halftime, but MU immediately answered with a run of their own, trailed by just four at the break, activated the First Team Ready corner three to tie the game at 42, and then took the lead for good with a little bit more than 13 minutes to go.

Since Last We Met: Things, uh, have not gone well for the Huskies. At the time, the loss to Marquette gave them a loss in three of their last four games, but all three losses were to teams in contention for the Big East title and all of them were on the road. On top of that, the win was at home against Creighton, the fifth team in the conversation for the top end of the league at the time. It’s not what you want, not after a 14-0 start to the season, but you can at least point at the schedule and say “hey, look, we took a knock that was kind of location based more than anything else.”

They then dropped their next two games after losing to Marquette, falling at home to St. John’s and on the road against Seton Hall. They have rebounded since then with wins in three of the last four games, but the wins were against Butler, DePaul, and Georgetown, aka The Bottom Three Teams In The League, and the loss in there was at home to Xavier. In short: UConn still has very nice looking computer numbers because of their hot start to the season that includes five wins over current KenPom top 50 teams…. But things have gone very poorly for them in Big East play and they are very clearly no longer the national championship contender that they appeared to be a month ago.

Tempo Free Fun: Let’s hang some actual analytics on that last sentence, shall we? Through December 30th, everything that happened in the season up until UConn’s first loss of the season, the Huskies were playing like the #2 team in the country. That’s according to and using the filtering system that CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish has made famous. Since December 29th, the day after UConn’s 14th straight win to start the year up until the end of Sunday’s action across the country, the Huskies have been playing like the #32 team in the country. That’s not bad, obviously. But it’s the difference between “national championship contender” and “obvious NCAA tournament at-large selection at worst.” That’s the difference between having a top 10 offense and defense and having a top 25 offense to pair with a defense that has somehow fallen to #76.

Of all of Marquette’s rematches in the back half of the Big East calendar, I think this one presents the biggest question mark in terms of what did each team do well or do poorly in the first meeting, how can they take advantage/fix whatever those things were, and how does the other team react to whatever they saw from their opponent the first time around. To put it more eloquently: What are the next moves in the chess game for both teams? For Marquette, one of the things that they did very well is shut off the contributions from UConn’s backcourt. The trio of Jordan Hawkins, Tristen Newton, and Andre Jackson shot a combined 5-for-11 inside the arc and 3-for-12 behind the arc in the first meeting. They combined for 24 points when they average 32.7 per game as a group. In particular, Marquette wiped Hawkins off the board almost entirely. UConn’s second leading scorer and biggest three-point shooting threat was held to just eight points total and he shot 1-for-8 from the field and just 1-for-4 from three-point land. Obviously the Golden Eagles want to do that again, but now the Huskies know how Marquette handled them the first time. What changes does Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley make to fix that, and what does MU head coach Shaka Smart do to react to the fixes that Hurley installs?

Another thing that worked incredibly well for Marquette last time around was inducing turnovers. They got the Huskies to cough it up on 23% of possessions, well over UConn’s average either season long or just in Big East play. The biggest source of turnovers was starting center Adama Sanogo, who was the transgressor on five different occasions. Several of those were merely the Big East Preseason Player of the Year getting whistled for traveling, so we’ll have to wait and see if MU’s efforts to swarm and befuddle him work again or if shifting the game to the XL Center causes a slightly more forgiving view of Sanogo’s footwork.

Speaking of Sanogo, one thing that did not go well for Marquette is how the big man’s backup played. 7’2” freshman Donovan Clingan was a one man wrecking crew for the Huskies in his 21 minutes of action against Marquette, shooting 8-for-11 from the field on a whole bunch of action that just left him wide open and moving towards the rim. Clingan led UConn in scoring that night with 20 points, and he added a team high 10 rebounds, including three on the offensive end, plus he blocked five shots and came up with two steals. As the game wore on, Marquette started to react to him in much more favorable terms, but it’s clear that Clingan can do some serious damage against the Golden Eagles who just do not have a physical presence to match up with him.

However, UConn hasn’t used Clingan as much as they did against the Golden Eagles since that game. He’s cleared 15 minutes in a game just once since then….. and he tallied just five points on two shots in a 19 minute effort against DePaul. So here’s the question: Does Dan Hurley lean on his freshman who he knows can wreck Marquette badly…. Or was Clingan’s performance in Milwaukee more a product of the Golden Eagles perfectly gameplanning for Sanogo and not really expecting the freshman to get a lot of minutes? Did Marquette develop a quality idea to defend/attack Clingan after seeing him for 21 minutes at Fiserv and can thus counter whatever plans Hurley might have for him….. or is the goal to get Sanogo into better positions to make an impact and thus not worry about getting Clingan on the floor at all?

One of Shaka Smart’s biggest motifs for this season has been response. How do you respond to anything that happens on the court? How do you respond emotionally, how do you respond mentally, how do you respond physically? Marquette’s response to what they learned about the Huskies in January and their response what has changed for this meeting is going to be the difference between a win and a loss.

Stat Watch: After eight assists last time out against Butler, Tyler Kolek has the 3rd most assists by a Marquette junior. That items is less important now though, as Kolek has jumped into the top 10 in all time assists seasons. Against Butler, Kolek stacked up enough assists this season to pass himself last year for the 7th most assists in a single season by any Marquette player. Kolek is 20 assists away from tying Sam Worthen in sixth place, so it’s going to be a minute before he changes spots…. But it is possible that Kolek records 11 assists on Tuesday and becomes the seventh player in MU history to record 200 assists in a season. Worthen is also the guy holding down the #2 spot on the junior year list, so we’ll reconvene for MU’s next game.

Stat Watch #2: Oso Ighodaro has tied Dwyane Wade for the 7th most blocks by a Marquette junior after recording two swats against Butler. He needs four more to catch Luke Fischer and Dwayne “Not The Rock” Johnson in a tie for fifth place.

Stat Watch #3: Kam Jones has the 9th most made triples by a Marquette sophomore. He needs three to catch and four to pass Robb Logterman and Travis Diener in a tie for seventh.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 9-1 with wins in their last five games.

Connecticut Last 10 Games: 4-6, but with wins in their last two and three of the last four.

All-Time Series: The series is tied at seven wins each.

Current Streak: Marquette’s home win earlier this season snapped a four game UConn winning streak against the Golden Eagles.

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