I'm getting ready to head to Las Vegas for Turkey Day, and as a result, I haven't been able to spend any time on the blog today. But we need a quick preview of this game, although it will not be the full-blown affair we normally do.
How UConn Got Here
In the first game of the Maui Classic, the Connecticut Huskies defeated the Wichita St. Shockers by four points. The Shockers out-shot the Huskies 56%-47% (eFG), but they turned the ball over more and allowed UConn an amazing 81% Free Throw Rate%. That means for every ten shots the Huskies put up, they shot eight free throws. UConn shot 73% from the line, and that was really where they were able to win the game. Kemba Walker put up 31 points and shot a ridiculous 93% from the line, making 14 of 15 attempts.
Last night, the Huskies took on the #2 ranked Michigan St. Spartans. This game looks much more normal, with the Huskies slightly outshooting the Spartans. Once again, FTR% was a factor at 39-35%, but UConn shot them relatively poorly. In the end, it was the Spartans' turnovers that doomed them.
Connecticut Huskies Basketball Roster
|Kyle Bailey||55||G||Sat out last season||170||6-3||junior|
|Donnell Beverly||2||G||Returning - minor reserve last year
|Jamal Coombs-McDaniel||4||F||Returning - reserve last year||210||6-7||sophomore|
|Charles Okwandu||35||C||Returning - minor reserve last year||255||7-0||senior|
|Alex Oriakhi||34||F/Y||Returning major reserve||240||6-9||sophomore|
|Kemba Walker||15||G/Y||Returning starter, prime-time player||172||6-1||junior|
As you can see, UConn is playing a four-guard starting lineup this year, although Niles Giffey could accurately be described as a small forward rather than a guard. UConn is very much like Kentucky in that they had to replace a large number of players from last year's team, and start two freshmen.
Prime time performers: Kemba Walker (scoring, assists), Alex Oriakhi (rebounds, blocks), Roscoe Smith (3-point shooting, rebounding).
Kentucky vs. UConn -- The Four Factors
As you can see by looking at the graph above, UConn has been a better offensive rebounding team and Kentucky the better shooting team. Both teams take good care of the ball, and both teams get to the line a lot. Ultimately, this game looks close in the stats, and the line is UK -5.5.
Like the Washington game, this game is all about defense, and is going to be primarily a test of wills between Kemba Walker and DeAndre Liggins. If Liggins can keep Walker under around 20 points and everyone else plays their normal game, UConn is in tough. Walker represents 38% of UConn's scoring, and only one other player is averaging double-digits.
UConn can also win this game by holding Kentucky to under 40% FG shooting, or if UK continues to struggle from the free throw line. Execution is important for this young Wildcat team, and if they execute the offense and surround Walker or force him to get in foul trouble, Kentucky should be able to win.
UConn plays a lot of players, and likes to run up and down the floor like UK does. I am a bit concerned about the Wildcats having played such a tough, fast, physical game last night, because they will largely need to duplicate that effort tonight. But UConn also played a tough, physical game against Michigan St., so I suppose that is a wash.
The big question is, who will guard Brandon Knight? Whoever it is will likely wind up in foul trouble, and Walker will likely be forced to guard Liggins -- not exactly a bargain either, given the size difference.