The Layup Line: Connecticut

David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

A top 25 showdown in the Shoe; #22 UCONN travels to Cincinnati to take on the #7 Bearcats.

We interrupt your National Signing Day coverage to announce this: Finally. The last Layup Line that involves some kind of detailed research. You see, after Thursday's game, every Bearcats' opponent until the NCAA tournament will be against a team they've already played. But you knew that.

And that means I don't have to pour over pages of stats and watch random game tape for your undivided attention. It gets a little easier from here on out - for me and for the Bearcats. Only 2 losses so far and 8 games are left. Several winnable, so who knows what's still in store. It's been a great run so far.

And it ain't over yet... On to my oh-so-detailed UCONN preview. First: remember Kilpatrick's dagger in 2012?

Kevin Ollie and his Huskies come to town with a 17-4 record, and those losses came to Stanford, Houston, SMU, and Louisville. UCONN is 2-1 against teams ranked in the AP poll this year, though.

  • Game: Thursday, February 6, 2014; 7:00pm EST
  • Location: Fifth Third Arena/Shoemaker Center; Cincinnati, OH
  • TV/Radio: ESPN (Mike Patrick, ugh); 700 WLW

Shabazz Napier (#13 in your program) still leads the Huskies, and he appears to literally do-it-all for them. Napier leads Connecticut in points (17.9), rebounding (6.0), assists (5.7), and steals (1.9). Think limiting him will be part of Mick Cronin's gameplan?

Napier isn't the only one you can focus on, though. DeAndre Daniels (#2) is a 6'9" forward that really excels in the pick and roll. Watch for him to set a screen only to sneak out behind the arc where he knocks down 48% of his shots. And he's not alone from downtown; 4 Huskies shoot over 42% from 3-point land.

Yes, the Bearcats generally switch well on all screens. They have the versatility that allows players to guard multiple positions. But the 'Cats haven't faced a team this deadly from behind the arc. Yes, I'm worried.

On the other end of the ball, the Huskies play defense fairly well. They're top four in the AAC in scoring defense (64.9), and they lead the conference in blocked shots (6.7). But, in terms of points per possession allowed, UCONN is ranked behind Louisville, SMU, Pitt, and NC Central - all teams the Bearcats have beat this year.

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Avoid silly fouls. UCONN leads the American in free throw percentage (77%). Don't put them at the line early in either half.
  • Guard the 3. I'm not sure zone defense is such a great idea against this Huskie squad - which means it'll be difficult to hide Big Dave in the middle (and, subsequently, give JJ rest).
  • Clean the Offensive Glass. This has been a strength for the Bearcats so far this year. UCONN is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the AAC. If the 'Cats have 11 or more offensive rebounds, I'll feel pretty good about their chances.

My prediction: I honestly don't know who to pick. This just feels like one of those games. On one hand, Cincinnati has done what it takes to beat teams better than UCONN this year. On the other hand, it's hard to win 15 games in a row - especially with such little depth on the frontline. Here goes nothin...

I picked the 'Cats to lose to Temple and UL - and they won both. Wish I could say I was doing this to follow that same pattern, but I'm not: the Huskies hit a healthy amount of deep balls and rebound both sides of the glass when it counts: Bearcats lose 67-63.

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