Villanova and newly ranked #1 UConn meet for a Saturday night showdown in South Philly | Villanova vs. UConn Preview
Written by David Szczepanski on January 20, 2024
The anticipation and energy are high as Villanova and #1 UConn meet in South Philly for a Saturday evening showdown. The 11-6 Wildcats currently hold third place in the Big East with a 4-2 conference record. They are looking to bounce back from a double-digit loss at Marquette earlier in the week. The Huskies, who are newly ranked #1 in the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since 2009, are 16-2 overall. Their 6-1 record against Big East foes places them in a tie with Seton Hall for first place in the conference.
#1 UConn Rises to the Top of the AP Poll
UConn’s only two losses came in December. The Huskies lost to #5 Kansas, 69-65, on December 1st and Seton Hall, 75-60, on December 20th. Since December 20th, the Huskies have won six straight games and moved up the AP ranks to #1. This will be the first time this season that the Wildcats and Huskies play each other. These two teams will match up again on February 24th in Connecticut. Villanova leads the all-time series against UConn, 39-34. However, the Wildcats have not defeated the Huskies since March of 2022, and they are 0-2 against Dan Hurley’s Huskies since the start of Coach Neptune’s tenure as head coach.
The Huskies’ Top Scorers
The Huskies always play good and fundamentally sound basketball. They are averaging 82 points per game, and they convert almost 50% of their shots from the field. They also shoot the three well as a team with a 35% success rate. UConn’s top four offensive producers are Cam Spencer, Alex Karaban, Tristen Newton, and Donovan Clingan. Spencer, a senior guard transfer from Rutgers, averages 15.5 points per game and 4.3 rebounds. He converts 50% of his shots from the field. Karaban, who averaged almost ten points per game last season in his freshman campaign, has continued to develop and succeed as a sophomore. He averages 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 54% from the field. Karaban is an excellent three-point shooter at 40.2% and free throw shooter. In his second season with the Huskies, Newton averages almost 15 points per game with 6.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists. He is not the best shooter on the team, but he still scores offensively and does so many other things right, especially on defense. Clingan, a 7’2’’ sophomore from Connecticut, will provide a tough task for Eric Dixon tonight. He averages 13 points per game with 6.2 rebounds. Clingan does well in the paint with a 61% success rate on shots from the field. He struggles from the charity stripe and does not take three-point attempts.
Turnovers + Rebounding
The Huskies are similar to Villanova in terms of turnovers with about 10 per game. However, UConn excels at forcing turnovers. They average more than six steals per game with 5.4 blocks per game. UConn also has the rebounding advantage, but Villanova is not far behind, and the Wildcats have done a better job recently with rebounding.
Villanova’s Rollercoaster Season Continues
Despite Villanova defeating North Carolina and Creighton earlier in the season, the Wildcats have struggled recently against good teams in the Big East, especially teams with high powered offenses. They lost to St. John’s by ten points and lost to Marquette by 13 points. At times, Villanova struggled to keep the game competitive against the Red Storm, and Villanova completely struggled defensively against Marquette, especially in the second half of that game. “First and foremost, you have to give them credit. They are a really good team. For us, we just have to get better in our coverages, our reads, and play a little bit harder,” Coach Neptune said in response to his thoughts on the loss to Marquette.
In the beginning of the season and start of Big East play, defense was one of Villanova’s biggest strengths. Their defense has struggled over the last couple of games, and they will need to play tough defense again tonight to defeat the Huskies. When asked about tonight’s conference matchup, Coach Neptune said, “You go into every Big East game and you know it’s going to be a great matchup. This is going to be the same thing. They have size, experience, intelligence, well coached, talented, so we got to go in there and our controllables are trying to play as hard as we possibly can for 40 minutes, defense and rebound, if we do that at a high level, we should be happy with the results.”
Wildcats’ Offense + Injury Update as Longino Returns
In terms of offense, Villanova averages about 75 points per game. However, in their four games in January, the Wildcats have only scored more than 74 points once and that was against DePaul on January 12th. The Wildcats have seen increased offensive production from Mark Armstrong, who is averaging almost 18 points in his last three games. Eric Dixon will have another tough battle tonight against UConn in the paint, but he is Villanova’s most consistent player and scorer by averaging 15.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest. Jordan Longino, who has missed the last two games with a left knee sprain, is available tonight. However, Nnanna Njoku (right knee soreness) is OUT.
My Keys to the Game
To defeat UConn, Villanova will have to depend on better defense and finding other players than Eric Dixon to score. In addition to Armstrong, Villanova is hoping that Justin Moore can have a better offensive game against the Huskies. Moore will be playing in his third game tonight since returning from a right knee sprain. Moore scored just two points against DePaul in 23 minutes, but he contributed eight points and two assists in the loss to Marquette on Monday. Coach Neptune on Justin Moore, “He is still a work in progress. He’s giving it a go; he is battling for us. I don’t think he is 100%.” If Moore or another starter and Armstrong can consistently score to help Dixon, Villanova should be able to get past the 70-point threshold offensively. The Wildcats must also limit turnovers. They finished the game with 12 turnovers against Marquette while forcing just three turnovers in the whole game. My last key to the game in addition to limiting turnovers and finding other scorers to help Dixon would be to guard better in the paint. It is obviously easier said than done, but Marquette dominated Villanova in the paint, 60-18. They cannot let UConn score that easily in the paint.
The crowd at the Wells Fargo Center will be extremely loud and ready to go from tipoff like it was against UCLA, and Villanova must take advantage of the crowd and get off to a quick start on both sides of the court, especially offensively.
WXVU Coverage of Villanova vs. #1 UConn
WXVU will have live coverage of tonight’s game beginning at 7:30pm with the pregame show from the Wells Fargo Center. Tipoff from South Philly is at 8pm.