When’s the most recent time No. 3 UConn has been ranked this highly in the Associated Press poll?
You have to rewind to March 2009, when A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien fronted a balanced Jim Calhoun squad that fell to Michigan State in the Final Four.
Even Calhoun’s 2011 NCAA champion never claimed a spot in the Top 3 of the AP poll. But Dan Hurley’s current crew has earned its place with an 11-0 start that features 11 wins by double figures — including over Power 5 schools Alabama, Florida, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Oregon.
But now comes the Big East schedule that begins with Saturday’s visit to Indianapolis to face Butler (8-3), which is riding a four-game winning streak into league play under coach Thad Matta.
“Every game in conference play is so difficult because you know each other so well,” Hurley said per the Connecticut Insider after Saturday’s 114-61 win over Long Island. “It’s one of 20 (games), and it’s a grind.”
UConn’s life has been made easier this year by Adama Sanogo’s ability to live up to his status as the Big East’s preseason Player of the Year. He has jumped on to short lists for National Player of the Year while averaging 18.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in just 24.1 minutes per game.
The Huskies go nine-deep, as they have five players in addition to Sanogo who average at least 9.2 points a game. For example, freshman Donovan Clingan gets just 15.1 minutes per game as Sanogo’s backup in the post, yet he’s averaging 10.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 75.4 percent from the field.
Sanogo and Clingan will be a huge test for Butler big man Manny Bates, who is averaging 13.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.
Bates won’t get much time to rest because none of the Bulldogs have much time to rest. With three key players yet to make their season debut, the team has been going just six or seven deep when games are in the balance.
That could change Saturday if Akron graduate transfer Ali Ali plays. He has been recovering from a concussion and broken nose that he suffered during an October practice, so it might take a bit to regain the form that led to a team-high 13.9 points per game for Akron last season.
With so little depth, every Butler starter averages in double figures in scoring, led by Jayden Taylor’s 14.9 points per game.
The Bulldogs are coming off an 82-58 victory over Cal on Saturday. They held the Golden Bears to 34.9 percent shooting from the field, including 14.3 percent (3 of 21) from 3-point range.
“Today our guys did a great job,” Matta said of his team’s defense, according to the Indianapolis Star. “Our activity was really good off the ball, and then we closed down quick.”
–Field Level Media