What's keeping men's hoops games closer than we'd like
UConn is undefeated, but the games against Georgetown and Villanova have been closer than desired.
UConn men’s basketball holds a 14-0 record and has won each game by eight points or more. And yet, one can’t help but feel like the last two games have been a bit tight.
Georgetown, one of the worst teams in the history of the Big East, held a seven-point lead over the Huskies in the second half. Villanova, who’s having a down year, also held a second-half lead against UConn. Though the Wildcats never seriously threatened UConn’s undefeated record, that win was the Huskies’ first by less than double-digits.
Obviously shots cannot fall on any given night, but UConn has overcome bad shooting nights from key players. The Huskies are not going to lose many games this year; they might not lose any at all.
If it does happen, these issues that have appeared across the season may be among the reasons why:
Hurley mentioned defensive rebounding as an area that was lacking after the Georgetown game and repeated that sentiment after Wednesday’s victory.
“We had opportunities, maybe, to walk away with a double-figure win,” Hurley said after the Villanova game. “But we didn’t defensive rebound in some key spots that turned into points for them.”
Statistically, the Huskies are pretty strong at rebounding. They’re ranked 31st in the country in offensive rebound percentage and allowing opponents to offensive rebound at the 12th-best rate in the country, according to KenPom. So this might be coach-speak, but perhaps the coach simply wants his team to be even better. With Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan playing at the level they are, it makes sense to expect a very high level of rebounding.
Sanogo foul trouble
With eight minutes left in the first half against Villanova, Adama Sanogo got his second foul. It frustrated him, he had to be calmed down by teammates and coaches, and sat the rest of the half.
Of course, the trajectory of the game changed with the best player on either roster off the court. Sanogo’s had four fouls five times in 14 games, including against Florida, Iowa State, and Oregon. UConn has been able to overcome his foul trouble thanks to its tremendous depth, both in low-post defense and scoring ability. But it will hurt extra against the better teams.
Andre Jackson has been called for a technical foul in two straight games. Head coach Dan Hurley has also received his fair share of techs in the past. These can change the course of the game significantly, particularly if it occurs late in the game when each possession is precious.
“I mean, it’s like how can I stop that,” Hurley said of Jackson’s passion that has led to the technical fouls, acknowledging that he maybe isn’t the best person to lecture his own players on this topic, and that Jackson may have been impacted by some of the trash talk of the other team. “It’s tough because he’s the most competitive person you’ll ever meet…Obviously the things he does far outweigh…but he’s gotta stop.”
The Villanova gameplan
Kyle Neptune’s gameplan kept the contest close by making life miserable for UConn’s frontcourt.
On offense, Nova’s athletic bigs were too big for the likes of Alex Karaban, but stretched the floor enough to give Sanogo or Donovan Clingan trouble by pulling them out of the paint and making them guard out on the perimeter.
As we wrote in our Takeaways:
[Eric Dixon’s] denial on Adama Sanogo inside made UConn’s first priority of establishing the post very difficult. Even if the Huskies were able to feed Sanogo, he often caught the ball in uncomfortable spots, resulting in some awkward dribbles and a few head-down offensive fouls.
UConn’s offense will sputter at times if Sanogo or Clingan struggle to establish the post like they did last night. Guards have to spend two or three extra seconds trying to find an angle, but that’s all the time needed for ball movement to stagnate. It’s not the long, rangy shot-blockers that seem to bother him, but the stocky, undersized types that can match his strength. If teams defend post entry passes well, UConn will have to work a lot harder at getting open looks.
Villanova dared UConn’s perimeter players to beat them, and gave Andre Jackson space to shoot, with some success. UConn got the last laugh Wednesday night — Newton and Diarra stepped up and Jackson sealed the game late with a wide-open 3-pointer in the final minutes — but Jackson finished 3-of-11 shooting on the night.
UConn does need to improve its shot selection overall. But they generally move the ball well and let their offense flow. It can get stuck if the bigs aren’t going, though.
Not every team in the country has the type of quick, floor-stretching bigs or small-ball lineup that Villanova has become famous for deploying, but a blueprint for frustrating the Huskies is now out there. Doubling Sanogo in the post and working to limit UConn’s transition chances by slowing the game down appear to be the way.