Game Preview: #3 ranked Connecticut vs Butler
First-semester finals have officially wrapped up at Butler and as a result, the Bulldogs are back in action. There’s no such thing as an easy game in the Big East and the Butler Bulldogs will take the stage against the #3 ranked Connecticut Huskies, who in my mind should be at #1. Here are some things to watch for, followed by my own prediction:
Shoutout to my colleague Ryan Cassidy who wrote an excellent piece on UConn’s defense (check it out here), which explains everything I would want to try to explain, but better.
Just looking at this matchup, though, I think the length and athleticism of this Husky squad will play a huge factor in this game. UConn is special defensively, and you have to attribute that to the high-level athletes they have. Adama Sanogo being as mobile as he is for his size is cheating. I can’t think about Andre Jackson and not have an awesome dunk of his come to mind. The dude can jump approximately 3000ft.
Tristen Newton is a legit 6’5” at PG. Jordan Hawkins is as long and athletic as they come. Nahiem Alleyne and Hassan Diarra aren’t the biggest guys out there, but both were brought in for one reason, their defense.
Before I get too long-winded (some might say “too late” and you might not be wrong), their backup center Donovan Clingan is rated as their best defender according to defensive rating, with an estimated 69.9 points allowed per 100 possessions he's on the floor.
They’re able to switch up their defense based on their personnel, so you are almost game-planning for two different teams in one. It’s really impressive. Again, Ryan’s article outlines this perfectly.
Holy crap, Butler’s finally getting healthy. Both Jalen Thomas and Ali Ali were cleared to practice, potentially giving them another much-needed frontcourt piece. Bates has shown off some impressive conditioning, but with how these UConn bigs make you work, it’s going to be really tough for him to play all 40 minutes. They’re going to wear him down as much as they possibly can, so another body in the frontcourt would be a huge help.
If Ali Ali is healthy and active, you can use Simas more as a guard, which is his natural position. DJ Hughes got his first game action since BYU in Atlantis against Cal and Myles Wilmoth was able to log his first minutes of the season in that contest.
Just as a reminder, Wilmoth actually started the first exhibition game. He was in line to at least play some role before his injury, maybe this is a game where he can take some big minutes. Who knows? I’ve said this before every single game and I’ve been wrong every single time. Butler has run their starters into the ground. They’ve used a six-man rotation for most of this season. However, this could be the first look at a more complete Butler team.
Big Man Battle
Adama Sanogo was the preseason Big East Player of the Year for a reason. He’s incredible. Yet, somehow you could argue he’s outperformed expectations. He’s averaging 18.3PPG and is in the top 30 nationally in field goal percentage. As mentioned previously, he’s been awesome defensively, too.
But, Sanogo isn’t all the Huskies have in the frontcourt. With Cam Whitmore's injury, the Freshman of the Year race in the conference really opened up for Donovan Clingan to make a statement.
Clingan averages over 10PPG, leads the Huskies in blocks with 2.1 per game and if he had enough shot attempts, he’d rank tied for THIRD in the COUNTRY in field goal percentage. He has controlled multiple games for UConn including against Iowa State (15pts, 10reb) and Florida (16pts, 8reb, 3blk). So, there isn’t much of a drop-off when the Preseason Conference Player of the Year steps off the floor.
But, man Manny Bates is awesome. He’s been a crucial part of this Butler team, willing them to victory in multiple spots, including games against Yale and Kansas State. Whenever there was a time where Butler needed someone to make a play in these games, they called Manny Bates's number and he delivered.
As a Butler student, I hate it so much that I won’t be there for this one. Man Hinkle is going to be electric. That being said, I also despise this matchup for Butler. Butler’s worst game of the season, by far, was against Tennessee. Why? Tennessee’s length and athleticism on the defensive end gave Butler fits. Tennessee has the third-ranked defense according to KenPom. Guess who's at #1? Yep, that's right, UConn.
Tennessee was able to take Bates out of the game and destroy a smaller Butler squad. They had a good matchup for Manny Bates in Uros Plavsic, and as a result, Bates put up a season-low four points. What does UConn have? Athleticism, length and awesome interior defense. The trifecta.
In their three losses, Butler has really struggled with length and athleticism. Jalen Pickett’s ability to see over the defense at 6’5” combined with his ability to make the right pass every single time down killed the Dogs. Tennessee has like eight guys at 6’8” with infinite wingspans and that really bothered Butler. NC State’s speed with Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith absolutely torched the Bulldogs. Those guys controlled the game in transition and generated any shot attempt their team could’ve wanted.
As for UConn, well, Andre Jackson might be the best pure athlete in the country. Did you see those clips from earlier? Jordan Hawkins is a very impressive athlete and Tristen Newton is that 6’5” PG. They defend so well, in part because of their length and athleticism, which is a recipe for disaster for this Butler team. They have the guys to matchup with Bates, too, with both Sanogo and Clingan bringing a unique challenge for Bates.
One other matchup Butler has struggled with all season are those big, skilled and athletic wings. Seth Lundy of Penn State had an incredibly efficient game, putting up ten points and nine boards on 4/5 shooting. BYU’s starting frontcourt of Traore and George scored 35 of their 70 points in what ended up being a very close, competitive game. Two smaller guys, but both are solid, physical athletes. Last, and most certainly not least, is Keyontae Johnson of Kansas State who had an absolutely incredible game, netting 20 points on 9/9 shooting, with 12 boards to go with his scoring.
So, who guards Andre Jackson? Jackson brings a lot of the same challenges that Pickett did, just at the wing. How about Jordan Hawkins? Hawkins is that exact type of wing that Butler has struggled with. Who matches up with these guys?
I think UConn presents too many problems for this Butler team. I really dislike the matchup here and think UConn can roll.
Final Score Prediction: UConn 78, Butler 63