Syracuse is a better basketball program than Connecticut. I know it, you know it and the American people know it. For some reason, UConn fans can’t succumb to this well known fact — Syracuse will surely show that team from Storrs in a fictional conference how to play round ball tonight at MSG.
But before this takes off into how personal the rivalry is, we caught up with Mike McCurry from the UConn Blog.
TNIAAM: Firstly, can you talk about how injuries have affected this team?
MM: Two of UConn’s three best offensive contributors are out for the year due to injury, as the Huskies are down to just eight scholarship players.
Terry Larrier (13.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG) has a torn left ACL, while Alterique Gilbert (10.3 PPG, 2.3 SPG), the purest point guard on the roster, has a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
As if those weren’t enough, freshman Mamadou Diarra—a consensus Top-150 recruit—will officially not play this season as a result of intense knee discomfort.
TNIAAM: You still lost to Wagner and Northeastern while healthy, in the most non-innocuous way possible, why are you guys so bad?
MM: Part of that was the delayed acclimation process of six newcomers—five members of a Top-10 recruiting class in addition to Larrier, a VCU transfer.
Still, there’s no excuse for falling to a pair of mid-majors at home, especially considering the preseason hype.
UConn isn’t able to hang its hat on a single thing offensively—the Huskies shoot just 31% from deep, possess no semblance of a true interior threat, and suffer from the maddening inconsistency of their starting backcourt, Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis.
The half court offense is humorous at times, and UConn isn’t getting out in transition enough to compensate for that. At the end of the day, that’s why this team is 3-4.
TNIAAM: What's it like playing in that made up conference?
MM: The American Athletic Conference may be made up, but that 2014 national championship trophy is quite authentic.
On a serious note, it sucks. Here’s the thing though: UConn fans can rip on the AAC all they want, but it’s not as if the Huskies have dominated the mid-major league in its early stages. UConn’s conference tournament seeds in three years of AAC play are 4, 6, and 5. This year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cincinnati, SMU, Houston, UCF, and Temple all finish ahead of the Huskies in the regular season standings.
Realignment screwed UConn, but do you know who finishes between 4th and 6th in mid-major leagues? Mid-major programs.
Then again, the regular season hasn’t been the Huskies’ thing in past years, and they’ve managed just fine in the postseason.
TNIAAM: What's the latest on trying to get in a real conference?
MM: The Big-12, which would have been a lot of fun, is not expanding. If I’m David Benedict (UConn’s AD), I’m schmoozing with the Big East on the regular. Low key, the Big East is a top-3 conference in America. But what would make it even better? Adding UConn and say, Cincinnati this summer.
TNIAAM: Okay, all jokes aside, let's transition to the game ahead. What do you expect to be able to do against the zone?
MM: Very little. So UConn is coming off a win against Boston University on Wednesday (I know, incredible, right?). BU played zone all night long, and UConn appeared stumped.
The Huskies managed just 0.73 points per possession, shooting 32% from the floor in a 51-49 victory. If they though BU’s zone was daunting, imagine what Monday will be like.
UConn made just five three-pointers versus BU, with three of those coming from freshman Christian Vital. The zone really seemed to neutralize Jalen Adams, who shot 3-of-15 from the field to go along with four turnovers. Kentan Facey was the primary middle man in the zone—let’s just say he’s no Nigel Hayes.
Expect freshman Vance Jackson to see a lot of time in the middle on Monday. Jackson’s midrange jumper is easily superior to Facey’s, and Jackson has also shown the ability to be an effective passer versus a 2-3 set. This is where losing Larrier really hurts—he was made to flash to the high post versus Syracuse.
TNIAAM: What are the chances Purvis has a solid shooting night?
MM: You never know with Rodney Purvis, who is as mercurial as it gets. He had a great Maui Invitational (18.7 PPG, 9-22 3FG) following three initial disastrous games (5.7 PPG, 2-16 3FG), only to then turn in a middling 6-point, 2-10 FG effort on Wednesday.
For what it’s worth, Purvis has really enjoyed neutral court games in his career: 12.3 PPG, 40% 3-point shooting in 28 such contests (10.5 PPG, 36% 3FG in 79 true home or road games).
TNIAAM: UConn wins if...
MM: Jalen Adams does his best Dallas Moore impersonation, drops 30 on the Orange, and Purvis/Vital/Jackson combine for about ten made triples.
TNIAAM: Syracuse wins if...
MM: They show up? No—it would certainly help if Tyler Lydon breaks out of his mini slump (15 total points, 6-18 FG in his last two games).
Syracuse also needs more production out of its bench than it had on Saturday in a 6-point win over North Florida. Tyler Roberson, John Gillon, and Taurean Thompson combined for a single point on 0-of-8 shooting
TNIAAM: What's your ultimate prediction?
MM: That Tyler Olander will still have more national titles than Jim Boeheim come April.
Oh, you’re only referring to tonight?
Thanks, Mike! Be sure to head over to theuconnblog.com to check the Husky version of the game preview. Cheers.