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The Scholarly Spotlight: University Of Connecticut Huskies

There are many example's in basketball of history repeating itself, whether in college or professional hoops. In college, the most surprising story from last season was the University Of Connecticut (UCONN) Huskies winning it all. They beat San Diego State to win their fifth championship, and their first since 2014. This season the Huskies have picked up right where they left off with a 29-3 record, and won the Big East regular season championship going 18-2. With the target on their back as defending champions, will UCONN be the first program to repeat as champs since 1991-92?

Leading the Huskies is head coach Dan Hurley, who is in his 7th year with the program. After winning the championship last season he was rewarded with a six year contract extension. Hurley has a team built to win and it's all led by senior guard Tristen Newton. He is averaging 15.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and his 5.8 assists rank second in the conference. His shooting splits are 40.5/31.5/80.4% this season, shooting pretty efficiently. Newton demonstrated he can do it all against # 4 Marquette in an 81-53 conference win on February 17th. He finished with a near triple-double, scoring 15 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists. The Huskies run about 25% of their plays for Newton, who has a Usage rate of 25.5, the leader of the starters. Fortunately for him, he is not alone and there is plenty of talent around UCONN helping them win.

Cam Spencer came to UCONN from Rutgers, and he has been a three point assassin for the Huskies. The senior guard is averaging 14.7 points, 2.6 three pointers, and he's shooting 45.1% from outside. Spencer leads the Big East in three-point percentage, and is third in three-pointers made. He also excels on the defensive side, leading the team with 1.5 steals per game. In one of their most impressive wins of the season against # 8 Marquette, Spencer really shined. This one was on the road in March, and he finished with a near triple-double. Spencer scored 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and had shooting splits of 60/71.4/N/A as he didn't attempt a free throw. He was awarded by the Associated Press for what he's brought to UCONN, as they awarded him the newcomer of the year. It's important to have a guy that can consistently hit outside shots, and that' what Spencer brings to Connecticut.

The Huskies boast a great guard tandem with Spencer and Newton, plus a dominant big man. Donovan Clingan has been a menace in the paint both on offense and defense. The homegrown sophomore from Bristol, CT averages 12.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. His 2.3 blocks is ranked second in the Big East, and 17th in the country. Clingan isn't alone in the UCONN frontcourt, because they have a guy who could become an offensive x-factor. Alex Karaban is averaging 14.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and is having a 50-40-90 season with splits of 50.3/40.1/90.2%. The tandem of Karaban and Clingan is a great example of fire and ice, with Karaban's elite offense, and Clingan's stifling defense. This is important because the Huskies' backcourt also resembles that and it works even better together. Like Spencer, Karaban also dominated Marquette in their road win scoring a game-high 23 points, and he did that shooting 61.5% from the field and 55.5% from three. UCONN has the squad to prove they can repeat, but how does their resume stack up against the rest of the "applicants"?

In Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology projection, Connecticut is ranked as a one seed in the East region. In their quest to the final four, they don't have a lot of competition, potentially facing North Carolina, Kansas, and Kentucky. Although a path to the final four is never easy, UCONN's is not difficult by any means. According to KenPom, the Huskies get their success through their offense. They rank third best in the country scoring 126.1 points per 100 possessions. While they excel on offense, they are not as strong on defense. UCONN allows 94.9 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 12th in the country. While a top 5 offense and top 15 is positive, their strength of schedule might work against them in the later rounds. The Huskies have a pretty weak strength of schedule, ranking 49th with a rating of +9.40. This goes along with their quad records, as they are 11-3 vs quad one, and 17-0 accross the other three quadrants. For a number one seed, UCONN has played a lot of quad four opponents, soundly going 9-0. This could be concerning when they get to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8, but they could make up for it with experience. As the Huskies advance to the Big East Tournament semifinals, they have a real chance to repeat as National Champions for the first time in over 20 years.


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