The No. 1 Villanova Wildcats (17-1, 5-1 BIG EAST) are headed to Hartford, Conn. on Saturday for the first time in five years. There they’ll face off against an old BIG EAST rival, the Connecticut Huskies (10-8).
For some, the game recalls the dominating conference of old. For others, the matchup solidifies faith in the new BIG EAST, which pulls strength from the same ideal— belief in a powerhouse basketball conference. Yet, everyone can agree that the clash between two schools with the long standing basketball traditions is going to be a fun one.
This game is the first of a three-game out of conference series. The Wildcats-Huskies matchup will continue next year in Madison Square Garden, and come home to Philly during the 2019-20 season.
Here’s three things to watch for during Saturday’s sold out game:
Jalen on Jalen
How does UConn plan to go up against Jalen Brunson? The way they’ve been playing this season, it looks like they’ll rely on their own top player, Jalen Adams, to take on the challenge.
In some ways, the Jalens seem fairly similar. Brunson averages 18.8 points a game, and Adams follows close behind with 18.5. Brunson may have the edge with 5.3 assists in a game compared to Adams’s 4.2, but Adams boasts 4.9 rebounds a game while Brunson sits at 3.2.
Bruson has proven himself to be a much more consistent player, shooting an incredible 57.% overall, and 62% inside the arc, with only 1.9 turnovers a game. Adams on the other hand shoots 42.4% from the floor, paired with 2.9 turnovers. But the biggest advantage Villanova’s Jalen has is the rest of the players around him.
Brunson has the support of teammates like Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Phil Booth. Adams on the other hand doesn’t have the same top tier talent with experience, probably accounting for his lower assist totals. He’s also had to deal with more prominent injuries. His second hand man, Terry Larrier, sat out of their last game against Memphis with headaches.
Is Villanova Selfish?
Given how much they keep the ball out of the other teams hands, it only seems right for someone to ask. Villanova has the fewest turnovers in Big East play, and they’re second in defensive turnover percentage. So when they’re not holding the ball, they’re trying to take it back from you. But while Wildcats are known for exceptional ball handling and cohesiveness on the court, you could probably say the opposite about this years Huskies.
In their last game against Memphis, UConn suffered 41 deflections and 17 turnovers. In just the last four minutes of the first half, the Huskies were out rebounded 18 to 7. In other words, they could barely handle the ball never mind make an effective drive to the hoop. It wasn’t just that game either. UConn has had 238 turnovers this season. That’s contrasted to the Wildcats 193, which is good for 11th overall in the country.
If You’re In The Mood For A Blowout...
In half of UConn’s losses this season they’ve fallen by over 20 points. After losing by 24 to unranked Memphis, and then seeing Villanova crush Georgetown by 36, they can’t be feeling good about this game.
When it comes to shooting, the huskies are out of their league against Villanova. Out of 351 schools, UConn’s field goal percentage ranks 327th. The Wildcat’s are currently standing in 4th place. Outside the arc, the Huskies rank 308th with 109 baskets, while Villanova comes in 10th with 207.
For the Huskies, it’s going to be a rough one. For the Villanova bench mob, it might just be a chance to play.
Tune in to CBS at 12:00 p.m. EST to watch.