No. 8 Wichita State (10-2) at Connecticut (7-5)
When: 11 a.m. CT, Saturday
Where: XL Center, Hartford, Conn. (15,564)
TV: CBS (Rich Waltz and Jim Spanarkel)
Series: Connecticut leads 1-0
Radio: 103.7-FM and GoShockers.com
Live stats: GoShockers.com
WSU ranking: No. 11
UConn ranking: No. 116
Score prediction: Wichita State 76, Connecticut 67
WSU’s winning odds: 79%
Coach: Gregg Marshall, 11th season, 270-92
Coach: Kevin Ollie, fifth season
Connecticut hasn’t lost to a team outside of KenPom’s Top 50, yet the season has been a disappointment to date because UConn’s five losses have come by an average of nearly 21 points. The most concerning losses were to Auburn and Arkansas by a combined 60 points. UConn has had some bright moments, such as competing well against Arizona for 30 minutes and topping Oregon (No. 48 on KenPom). UConn learned earlier this week that Alterique Gilbert, a McDonald’s All-American recruit, was lost for the season. The Huskies were picked to finish fifth in the American.
Rebounding: UConn grabs 31 percent of its own misses, which an upper-third rate in college basketball, and limits opponents to 26.5 percent of possible offensive rebounds — ranking 82nd in the country. WSU is one of the strongest rebounding teams in the country, ranking 42nd in chasing its own misses (34.6 percent) and 10th in limiting them on defense (22.5 percent).
Free-throw shooting: Connecticut is just slightly above-average generating foul shots, but it ranks 56th in the country with its 74.9-percent team average. On an offense that is struggling to make shots, more than 22 percent of UConn’s offense comes on free throws — the 40th-highest rate in the country. WSU’s defense has done well to keep opponents off the foul line, as it ranks in the top-third of college basketball in defensive free throw rate.
Two-point defense: UConn has some length off the bench to protect the rim, which has translated to an above-average defense this season on two-point shots. Opponents are shooting 48 percent inside the arc, which ranks 116th. WSU is one of the better teams in the country at making two-point shots, ranking 47th with its 54.9 percentage.
Making shots: UConn is barely shooting above 40 percent as a team this season and it’s 45.6 mark on effective field goal percentage ranks the Huskies 313th in the country. The Huskies are shooting 31 percent from beyond the arc and just above 45 percent inside it, both of which rank in the bottom 60 of the country.
Assisting: Part of the struggles in finding assists have to do with UConn struggling to make shots. But the Huskies are averaging just 9.3 assists per game and are only assisting on 39 percent of the shots they do make, which is the fourth-worst mark in the country.
Fouling: UConn is averaging nearly 20 fouls per game called on the team, which is putting opponents on the foul line at an above-average rate. WSU can make UConn pay, as the Shockers rank 37th in the country with their 76 percent accuracy as a team.
3 Players to Watch
6-3 guard Jalen Adams (No. 4)
UConn is going to put Adams in a lot of ball screens and let him attack the defense. He’s averaging 18.2 points and 3.3 assists, but is shooting less than 43 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc. He’s a talented player who is dangerous when he has a full steam of momentum headed toward the basket, but has struggled to finish consistently this season. He’s been good off-ball as a spot-up shooter, but the majority of the time he’s going to be the one handling the ball and running the pick-and-roll.
6-8 forward Terry Larrier (No. 22)
Larrier is a dangerous player for WSU given its troubles with bigs that pop out after screens and shoot it from the perimeter. Larrier is shooting 41 percent on three-pointers and has made 21 beyond the arc already, as he’s averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. Per Synergy, he’s scoring at 1.06 PPP on spot-up opportunities — many times stemming from Adams penetrating and him throwing it back to Larrier on the perimeter. This will be a chance for WSU to prove it can handle big-men shooters after struggling with it during the non-conference slate.
6-2 guard Christian Vital (No. 1)
Vital is averaging 12.5 points, the third-highest mark on the team, but is struggling to make shots this season with a 36 percent field goal percentage. Vital has been serviceable on kick-outs to the perimeter where he can stand and shoot, as he’s scoring at 0.98 PPP on spot-up opportunities. And that’s because of his volume — he’s taking more than five three-pointers per game and shooting less than 29 percent beyond the arc. If he catches fire, he will be a dangerous shooter — but WSU can limit his effectiveness by cutting out those spot-up opportunities.
It is true that Connecticut’s roster is loaded with highly-touted recruits and the Huskies are sure to be fired up to be the first ones to welcome Wichita State to the AAC. But it’s hard to see Wichita State as anything other than a heavy favorite on Saturday.
The Shockers have had their own struggles in non-conference play, but nothing approaching the level of inadequacy of UConn’s offense so far this season. The Huskies are statistically one of the worst shooting teams in the nation and they’re near the bottom in assist rate, which is a very bad combination. WSU’s defense has struggled throughout the non-conference, so this is a great opportunity for the Shockers to go on the road in a prime-time slot and prove they can guard.
The most interesting matchup of the game will be how WSU defends UConn’s Terry Larrier, a stretch-four in the same mold of player that has wrecked havoc against WSU’s defense this season. Will the Shockers switch all screens outside of the center? Will the Shockers continue to have their big men hard hedge and try to do a better job of bottling up the ball handler? It will be an interesting game-within-the-game to watch.
I think this is a game where Wichita State finally puts together a complete performance and come through with a definitive victory — something it hasn’t had in some time.
Wichita State 79, Connecticut 65