The No. 25 Connecticut Huskies have entered the polls and are hoping to keep things rolling on Thursday when they visit the Butler Bulldogs. These two teams played on Tuesday with the Huskies winning, 76-59, at home but will have to meet again on Thursday to make up for a game that was previously postponed. Of course, now the Huskies have to go on the road to face the struggling Bulldogs.
Despite moving into the top-25, UConn’s season has endured some ups and downs. In recent weeks, the Huskies have had multiple games postponed, making it tough to get into a rhythm. However, they are 12-4 on the season with those four losses coming by a combined 14 points, so they aren’t far away from being a one- or two-loss team, if not better.
When the Huskies get in a groove, their offense can be as good as any in the Big East, averaging 80 points per game. The all-senior backcourt of R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin has led the way, as expected. Cole is an elite scorer at 16.4 points per game but also a strong point guard who is averaging 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Meanwhile, Martin is a big guard who loves to get to the basket and can be a force on the boards despite scoring just three points in Tuesday’s win over Butler. The Huskies also have decent depth in the backcourt with Andre Jackson, Jalen Gaffney, and freshman Jordan Hawkins all becoming regular contributors. Hawkins was a top-50 recruit who will be an X-factor during the second half of the season, especially after scoring 14 points against Butler on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the third piece of UConn’s great trio is sophomore forward Adama Sanogo. After averaging just 7.3 points per game last season, Sanogo has more than doubled that production this season, becoming one of the best post players in the Big East. He also leads UConn in rebounding with 8.4 boards per game. Seniors Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley also add experience to the UConn frontcourt, not to mention two more capable rebounders. In fact, Whaley is a top-notch rim protector, tying Sanogo for the team lead with 2.3 blocks per game.
The Bulldogs had a challenging and somewhat uneven non-conference season. They played a tough schedule but lost almost all of their games against power-conference opponents other than a win over Oklahoma. Things haven’t gone much better for Butler during conference play, as the Bulldogs are 2-4, having lost four of their last five games. For what it’s worth, all four of those losses have come against ranked teams. However, all four losses have also come by double digits, including a 40-point loss to Villanova.
The Bulldogs certainly expected their season to unfold differently after returning all five starters from last season. But Butler is lacking star power, as there is only one player who averages double figures with the Bulldogs scoring just 62.4 points per game, which is less than what they’re giving up on the other end. Butler’s veteran players have struggled so much that freshmen Jayden Taylor is the team’s leading scorer at 10.2 points per game. He scored 19 points in a losing effort against UConn on Tuesday but had also been held to five points or less in the two previous games, so he’s going through some freshman struggles early in conference play.
A year ago, all five Butler starters were averaging at least 10 points per game but now none of them are averaging double figures. Fifth-year point guard Aaron Thompson has also seen his assist numbers dip to their lowest levels since his freshman season. Thompson began the season as one of the best point guards in the Big East, but the numbers don’t show that, especially with just 13 total points and three assists over his last three games. On paper, the Bulldogs aren’t lacking experience. However, they aren’t shooting the ball well and they don’t have the size or athleticism in the frontcourt to compete with Big East and power-conference opponents. The only bright spot is freshman Simas Lukosius had 17 points against UConn and Tuesday and could provide the Bulldogs with a spark off the bench.
The Bulldogs no doubt learned on Tuesday that beating UConn will be a tough task. The Huskies led by 15 points at the half and cruised to a comfortable win despite getting three total points from Whaley and Martin. The Huskies dominated on the boards and limited what the Butler frontcourt was able to do. Cole, Jackson, and Hawkins also had good games for the UConn backcourt. Unless the Bulldogs can completely turn things around in 48 hours or gain a considerable edge by playing at home, the Huskies are likely to put together another comfortable win on Thursday.
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