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TT Court Vision: A look at the Connecticut Huskies

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The Terps don’t have it easy in the first round, but the Huskies can be beat.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Testudo Times film room. It is officially madness season for college basketball, which is undoubtedly the best time of the year.

Maryland men’s basketball was named a 10-seed Sunday evening, drawing a matchup with the 7-seed Connecticut Huskies. The Terps played seven more games than the Huskies this season, while also playing a much tougher schedule given that the Big Ten conference ultimately had nine teams selected for the big dance and the Big East was considerably weaker this season.

Here is a closer look at what to expect from UConn on Saturday.

The Huskies will also bring some strong defense to the floor

Similar to the Terps, Connecticut has been able to comfortably navigate its season thanks to strong defensive play.

The Huskies rarely ever play zone defense, relying on tough man-to-man play to disrupt opponents. This is good news for Maryland, which often struggles greatly against the zone.

UConn also boasts Big East Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Whaley, which could lead to a gritty battle between the two teams.

In their loss to Creighton in the Big East tournament, the Huskies opened the game with energy on the defensive side of the ball.

Despite the Bluejays aiming to bring the ball down quickly, UConn was able to stop the ball and go into its defense. By playing tight man, the Huskies were able to send Creighton into secondary options.

The option that the Bluejays ran with was getting the mismatch of a wing player on post player Adama Sanogo — who Maryland came close to landing over the offseason. With him opting to continue pressing, the Bluejays drove to the block, but double help forced a poor shot attempt.

In the same game, the Bluejays were able to generate chances by operating in isolation situations to take away from the help defense.

Junior guard Tyrese Martin (No. 4) is guarding his man on the shallow wing, but Jalen Gaffney (No. 0) is unable to truly offer crashing help due to his man shifting away. This allows Creighton a chance to body the 6-foot-6 guard and earn a foul. The Huskies sit in the 15th percentile nationally, allowing a free throw attempt rate of 36.9% for opposing teams.

The Terps have the length to create different mismatches across the board, but will have to be disciplined and avoid short possessions against a Connecticut defense that holds teams to 17.3 seconds per offensive trip.

James Bouknight transforms the Huskies offensively

Sophomore guard James Bouknight missed a significant portion of the 2020-21 season due to injury, but he is by far the best talent for the Huskies on the offensive end.

In 14 games, including 13 starts, Bouknight averaged 19 points on 45.3% shooting from the field and 30.4% shooting from three. Though it was pre-injury, Bouknight’s top performance of the season came when he scored 40 points in 40 minutes against Creighton on Dec. 20.

Bouknight suffered a left elbow injury on Jan. 5 against Marquette, and didn’t see the court again until Feb. 20. He also suffered from cramps during the team’s Big East tournament loss to Creighton last week. Even with the time off, there have been no significant changes in Bouknight’s game.

There aren’t many shots that Bouknight cannot hit. Everything from catch-and-shoot threes to mid-range shots off the bounce to floaters and more consistently fall.

Bouknight struggled a bit in his team’s early season victory over fellow tournament team, USC, scoring 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the floor, but still made his mark outside.

Early on, Bouknight was able to keep the Huskies in the game with this isolation play. Due to his man opting to cut down on the inside drive and being unable to closeout, Bouknight took a dribble and stepped back to nail this three-point shot.

Bouknight also has a strong ability to cut to the basket and get open for passes, especially against zone defenses.

Against Central Connecticut, Bouknight was able to find soft spots in the zone defense by cutting across to the opposite low block. This allowed him to easily receive a pass and go up with no help due to the middle man of the 2-3 stepping up on the passer.

For Maryland, it only makes sense to have Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Darryl Morsell locking down on Bouknight to try and minimize his impact.

A trio of paint talents could pose a threat inside and out

While the Huskies don’t have a considerable height advantage, they do have a trio of key players, each of which are 6-foot-9, who can rotate down low and cause problems.

Whaley has started every game this season and leads all post players with 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

Freshman forward Adama Sanogo has taken on a strong role this season, starting in 19 of 22 games while averaging 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds. Sanogo has had a particularly strong streak down the stretch of this season, finishing in double figures for four consecutive games.

Senior forward Tyler Polley has played more of a reserve role since Sanogo has taken over as a starter for the Huskies, but has still seen the floor in 21 games this season. He averages 7.6 points and 2.0 rebounds per game, while also leading the team with 102 three-point attempts and converting 35.3% of his tries.

As far as the bulk of the work inside, Sanogo has taken charge of the paint with his 240-pound frame.

Sanogo has what many post players take years to develop to open this February game against Georgetown: patience.

The Huskies worked to get him the ball inside with a one-on-one matchup and instead of going straight up to force a hook with his right, Sanogo faked, regained composure and went under the defender and to the left for an easy layup.

Polley showed his ability to disrupt defenses in the same game, thanks to his mid-range game and ball-handling.

Even with his 6-foot-9 frame, Polley offered relief for R.J. Cole at the top of the key off of a screen. He took his defender back to the left, across the screen and was able to hit a long two despite decent coverage from his man and the helper. Cole is in concussion protocol and it remains unclear whether he will play Saturday.

The Terps will have to make sure that they don’t allow someone like Galin Smith to be matched up with Polley on the perimeter.

While Maryland has struggled against teams with size inside, forcing these big men to guard a small lineup is one way to counter their impact on the offensive end.