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UConn men's hoops readies for its first big test
The 20th-ranked Huskies are in Portland where a challenging field awaits.
It’s seemed like an easy ride for the UConn men’s basketball team so far this season. The No. 20 Huskies (5-0) have won all five of their games by 20 points or more.
Tonight they play their first game away from home, against Oregon (2-2, ranked 38th in KenPom) in the opening round of the Phil Knight Invitational. Tip-off is 8 p.m. at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon, and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
“These first five games I feel like prepared us pretty well for what’s coming,” UConn freshman Donovan Clingan said. “We just have to play a full forty minutes.”
The Huskies will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 12 Michigan State on Friday, with the tournament wrapping up Sunday. The eight-team field also includes Iowa State, North Carolina, Portland, and Villanova.
“We’re a team like a lot of teams at this time of year in terms of how the schedule falls and how you need to play these non-conference games. We’re ready to play 25 of our next 26 versus big people,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said.
The Husky big men have been particularly impressive, with junior Adama Sanogo averaging a healthy 21.4 points and eight rebounds per game. Clingan is averaging 9.6 ppg and 6.4 rpg with 13 blocks.
Also in that mix is freshman Alex Karaban (11 ppg, 3.6 rpg), who has cemented a spot in the starting lineup with sophomore Samson Johnson (foot) out.
The backcourt was without sophomore Jordan Hawkins (concussion) and junior Andre Jackson (pinky) for multiple games, but both are now back in the lineup. Hawkins scored 20 points against UNC Wilmington and 11 against Delaware State while Jackson has been facilitating nicely, averaging 4.5 assists in two games.
Their absences allowed three newcomers, Tristen Newton (11.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Nahiem Alleyne (9.6 ppg), and Joey Calcattera (8.6 ppg), opportunities to carve their niches in the rotation. Another transfer, Hassan Diarra, leads the Huskies with 23 assists.
“The depth that we have is really, really strong,” Hurley said.
The Ducks are playing their second straight ranked opponent, having lost to No. 2 Houston, 66-56, on Sunday.
Senior center N'Faly Dante leads the way for Oregon with 14.8 ppg and 9.0 rpg. Senior guard Will Richardson (10.0 ppg, 4.0 apg) is their top facilitator and second-leading scorer.
Oregon could be thin in the backcourt with starter Keeshawn Barthelemy injured his leg against Houston and was seen in a walking boot afterward. South Carolina transfer Jermaine Couisnard is trying to come back from knee surgery, while Brennan Rigsby has a foot injury.
ALL-TIME SERIES: 1-1
The Ducks won their first meeting: 79-69 in 2016 at the Maui Invitational. UConn returned the favor with a comfortable victory of its own the 2017 PK80, 83-63.
KenPom predicts a four-point Husky win, 73-69
Oddsmakers mostly have UConn as 3 or 3.5-point favorites
The Huskies have played an easier schedule so that may explain why their stats look a bit better.
But they also have some efficiency advantages over Oregon, particularly in shooting. Looking at offensive rebound percentage and overall performance on the glass, the Ducks may have an edge on the boards.