UConn men’s basketball passed its first true test of the season Sunday afternoon, steamrolling Indiana 77-57 in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd. In the Empire Classic title game, the Huskies will take on No. 19 Texas, which needed a last minute game-winner from Max Abmas to lift the Longhorns past a lowly Louisville squad.
The matchup against Texas provides another quality opponent in addition to an already strong non-conference schedule. Including the matchup against the Longhorns, four of the Huskies’ next seven games will be against opponents inside the top 25 of KenPom. Three of those matchups will come on neutral courts, with one (Kansas) coming on the road.
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -5.5, over/under 143.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, Texas 68 | 73 percent win probability
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UConn is 6-3 in program history against Texas. The teams’ first meeting came on Dec. 14, 1991 in Austin to start a home-and-home series, which is one of four that the programs have played and accounts for all but one contest to this point. The final game came in the Sweet 16 of the 2003 NCAA Tournament in San Antonio at the Alamodome, which the Longhorns won by four and helped snap a 56-year Final Four drought.
The games also largely have been close, as just two have finished with a margin of victory larger than 10 points and another pair had a one-point differential.
What to watch for
Samson, Solo step up
Samson Johnson contributed quality minutes in Sunday’s win over the Hoosiers with four rebounds, a putback dunk and a block in 11 minutes, largely against former top-10 recruit Kel’el Ware. Foul trouble was still an issue — Johnson racked up four fouls in that short span — but the junior more than held his own against a solid Inidana frontcourt.
Ball took some time to get going, but scored five of his nine points early in the second half to help the Huskies pull away. He was 1-for-5 from beyond the arc on the day and is now 4-for-17 from deep on the season, but Ball has been praised for shooting the ball well this offseason and may be able to improve on those numbers as the year’s progress. If he can shoot enough to keep defenses honest, he will be another floor-spacing weapon and can continue to use his size and athleticism to impact the game on defense and on the boards.
Can Clingan bounce back?
Donovan Clingan was still an absolute force against the Hoosiers on Sunday with seven points, nine rebounds and countless altered shots on defense, but the sophomore seemed to struggle a little getting into his post moves against the long and lanky Ware. Outside of 6-foot-11 big Kadin Shedrick, Texas doesn’t have much size down low and has no bigs in the realms of a talent like Ware. With this advantage, Clingan will have plenty of opportunities to score down low and showcase the improved post game and footwork he showed in flashes in the first three games of the season.
Despite some struggles, it wasn’t all bad for Clingan. He played a career-high 30 minutes and committed just one foul, two things he was incapable of doing last season. He also seems to have settled in as a free throw shooter — after some misses early on against IU, he finished the night 5-for-8 from the stripe.
Containing Max Abmas
Texas head coach Rodney Terry landed one of the top scorers in the transfer portal this offseason in former Oral Roberts star Max Abmas, who has slotted in to the Longhorns’ starting lineup and already made his mark with a game-winning jumper Sunday night. Abmas, who has averaged more than 21 points per game in each of the last three seasons and led the country in scoring in 2020-21, is the best pure scorer the Huskies have faced all season.
While he’s not being relied on as frequently as he was during his days in Tulsa, Abmas is still the primary option on offense and will be key to stopping for the Huskies to win. Due to his size at just 6-feet, Abmas is primarily doing damage against Power 6 opponents with midrange shots and 3-pointers. Abmas, a 39 percent career 3-point shooter, shot just 2-for-10 from outside in the win over Louisville but still finished with 14 points. With Andre Jackson gone, Hassan Diarra will likely see extended minutes as the team’s best perimeter defender to try and limit Abmas. Diarra played well in 17 minutes against the Hoosiers and while the senior is limited offensively, he still contributed six assists and was a constant pest on defense for the Indiana backcourt.
126 – This will be UConn’s 126th game at the current Madison Square Garden, with 11 additional games played at the third iteration of the arena, which was built in 1925. Overall, the Huskies are 70-66 since their first game in 1951.
15 – Texas is No. 15 nationally in effective field goal percentage at 59.3 percent. Effective field goal percentage (eFG) is a weighted statistic that factors in the additional value of 3-pointers versus 2-point shots. UConn ranks 13th.
3 – With the win Sunday, UConn moved up to No. 3 in KenPom, the team’s highest ranking so far this season. The Huskies are one of three schools in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, joined by Houston and Arizona.