THURSDAY- MARCH 20- BUFFALO: It’s finally here. Two years and five days after the UConn men’s last NCAA appearance, the Huskies are back in the tournament. Tonight, at the First Niagra Center in Buffalo, it’s UConn and St Joseph’s in second round East regional action.
UConn had a very good weekend in Memphis as the AAC tournament. Not a great weekend, that would have been winning the title. But a very good weekend that has them in the right frame of mind for the Big Dance. UConn looked more like the team that went 10-2 after the Texas mis-step to start the conference season and not the team that stumbled to the finish line, winning 3 of its last 5 games but struggling to shoot the ball and rebound.
The best signs to come out of Memphis was the play of DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright. The two juniors hadn’t played great basketball for the conference season, Daniels after missing two games with injuries and Boatright after the death of his cousin.But in the AAC tournament, both showed they are ready to get back to form. UConn needs Daniels to be a slasher and driver who can take the ball to the hoop and hit the outside shot. And they need Boatright to be a defensive stopper and creator on the offensive end.And against Louisville, Amida Brimah showed his ability to score against quality opposition. His 14 rebounds in the final two games against Cincinnati and Louisville are a sign of his development.
I would also expect Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey to shine in the brightest spotlight. Napier didn’t play great in Memphis and seemed to try and force things. I expect him to get back to his smart, steady game. And Giffey is playing his best basketball at the end of his career.
St Joe’s roared to the A-10 title behind their talented big man 6’8 Halil Kanacevic, the A-10 tourney MVP and senior guard Langston Galloway who is a threat from three point range. In fact other than 6’8 Ronald Roberts Jr and Javon Baumann, all the Hawks like to take the three ball. UConn has to be cognizant of that and defend the perimeter. Kevin Ollie says four of their five starters can start the fast break so transition defense is critical tonight.
But the Hawks struggle with the ball, ranked 311th in the nation in turnover margin,so expect UConn to try and pressure St Joes and force them into mistakes. They also really struggle from the line where they rank 329th.
On paper, it appears to be a pretty even matchup. At 6:55 tonight, we’ll see how even it is. Our pre game begins at 6:15, hope you can join us.