Meet the HuskiesHall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun is in his 24th season at the school and has won more than 800 games at the college level (in 37 seasons). Gone is the nation's top big man tandem from last season: 7-2 C Hasheem Thabeet and 6'9" PF Jeff Adrien. The Huskies also lost clutch shooting point guard A.J. Price and key defensive guard Craig Austrie to the NBA and graduation.
The returning backcourt pairing of powerful Jerome Dyson (20 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 40% FG) and speedy sophomore Kemba Walker (13 points, 6 assists, 42% from beyond the arc) key the 2010 attack. Dyson was 1st Team All Defense in the Big East last season and played a key role vs. the Irish last January's, scoring 15 points and grabbing 9 boards in the Huskies 69-61 victory that broke Notre Dame's 45-game home court winning streak.
Dyson tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee early last February, but returned for the start of the 2009-10 season and has scored 20 or more points in seven games this season.
Walker was among my pre-season candidates for the Big East's Most Improved Player award, but he's intermittently struggled with his shot, missing more than 60 percent of his field goal attempts in four separate contests en route to a 40 percent season average. The sophomore is close to a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and currently ranks fifth among Big East players at 2.1 steals per game.
Calhoun's top NBA prospect is likely ultra-athletic forward Stanley Robinson. The 6'9" senior is averaging just over 17 points per game, and has scored 22 or greater in three of his last four contests entering Saturday. Robinson has hit at a 54.5 percent clip from the field while knocking down a judicious 12-21 from long range. His unique leaping ability will create problems for Irish forward Tim Abromaitis over the course of the contest.
Replacing Thabeet in the middle and drawing the assignment of covering Luke Harangody is former 5-star recruit, 6'10" freshman big man Ater Majok. Majok has struggled since joining the Huskies at mid-season, but the Sudanese big man with the purported 7'7" wingspan could create problems for Harangody and fellow post player Tyrone Nash inside.
Rounding out the starting five is 6'9" 240-pound freshman Alex Oriakhi. Though he's yet to hit double figures, Oriakhi has produced eight games with between 8 and 14 rebounds in his first collegiate season.
The team's "sixth starter" is 6'9" senior center Gavin Edwards. An ideal eighth man and fourth big last season, Edwards has stepped into a lead role for 2010, averaging more than 30 minutes per contest, scoring 10.6 points and grabbing 6.6 boards while connecting on Big East-best 68 percent of his field goal attempts to date. The senior ranked seventh in the nation at 3.7 blocks per game as of the NCAA's last update.
The Last TimeThe teams met twice last season: as noted above, UConn snapped Notre Dame's 45-game winning streak in South Bend in late January, then proceeded to pull away from the Irish late behind the heroics of the departed Jeff Adrien (25 points and 9 boards) to earn a 72-65 February win and season sweep.
Stats and Streaks
- The Irish currently rank 9th in the nation in assists per games and 1st in assist-to-turnover ratio. UConn has struggled a bit in the same categories, currently slotted at 64th and 82nd respectively.
- The Huskies rank first nationally in blocked shots at 9.8 per contest. On a related note, UConn is 11th nationally in field goal percentage defense, holding its opponents to a 36.5 percent clip. Notre Dame has thus far shot over 50 percent from the field to rank 15th in the nation.
- Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey won his 200th game as Irish coach in Wednesday's Big East opener at the Purcell Pavilion. Coincidentally, a win today would give Brey his 300th career victory overall (Brey was 99-52 in five seasons at Delaware).
- The Irish and Huskies have met on four occasions over the last two seasons, and UConn has beaten Notre Dame in three consecutive. The Irish won 73-68 in early January 2008 at the Joyce Center. The Huskies have prevailed in seven of 10 meetings since the start of the 2004 season and Brey has not won in either Storrs or Hartford in his Irish career (0-6).
- Notre Dame is 34-47 on the road in Big East play under Brey.
- Irish junior forward Tim Abromaitis hails from Unionville, CT. His father Jim played for the Huskies from 1975-1980.
- Senior point guard Tory Jackson needs just six assists to pass the great David Rivers (586 assists from 1984-88) for second place on the program's career assist list. Chris Thomas' Irish record of 833 assists is out of reach for the program's foreseeable future.
- Connecticut has been installed as a 7-point favorite for the contest.
PredictionNotre Dame will play its first game against a ranked opponent and today's contest likewise marks the team's first true road game of the season. (The Irish lost to Northwestern and defeated Saint Louis on a neutral court in Chicago over Thanksgiving weekend.)
UConn, on the other hand, is battle-tested facing (and losing to) Duke, Kentucky, and Cincinnati. The Huskies 71-69 Wednesday night loss in Cincy ensures UConn will drop from its current No. 10 ranking, but of greater consequence is a bounce-back win for the Huskies who, with a far different team makeup than last year's Final Four unit, can ill-afford to fall to 0-2 in the demanding Big East.
Notre Dame is off the national radar after the home loss to Loyola Marymount last month. A win in Hartford would put the Irish back on the map and give Mike Brey his second 2-0 conference start in three seasons.
The Huskies attack the basket off the dribble, with seniors Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson having no athletic equal awaiting them in today's contest. Connecticut is no longer a solid outside shooting team, and the Irish will likely counter the Huskies with a preponderance of zone defense today.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame has struggled to rebound from its zone look over the entire Harangody era…an issue when facing the massive front line of the Huskies.
The improved, scrappy Irish will hang in there and offer a late run, but ultimately fall in their first road test, 75-67.