Everything you need to know as No. 2 UConn men take on No. 22 Xavier in ranked New Years Eve matchup

The UConn men will close out 2022 with a ranked Big East matchup at Xavier at noon on Saturday in Cincinnati, the second of six in the most brutal stretch of the Huskies’ conference schedule.

After being tested by Villanova, which put together a game plan to neutralize Adama Sanogo and leave Andre Jackson open at the perimeter, the No. 2 Huskies have won 14 straight to start the season and sit at 3-0 in conference play – tied with the No. 22 Musketeers and Providence for first place.

Xavier, one of the hottest teams in the conference, carries a seven-game winning streak back home into what will be a sold out Cintas Center. Behind their two big men, Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle, who head coach Sean Miller plays together, Xavier has the ninth-best offense in the nation according to KenPom.

A 7-footer, Nunge’s threat comes from all over the court. Shooting 42.5% from deep with an average of three 3-point attempts per game, Nunge is a threat as both a scorer (15.2 points per game) and a passer (1.8 assists per game) when he’s able to find 6-9 Freemantle down low.

Xavier is 11-3, the only losses coming in competitive games against Indiana, Duke and Gonzaga – all of which were ranked at the time they played. The Musketeers’ last two games were decided by five points or less in wins against Seton Hall (73-70) and St. John’s (84-79).

While UConn struggled at times with Sanogo scoring just seven points and grabbing a single rebound against Villanova, the Huskies were able to use Hassan Diarra off the bench and their No. 4 defense, according to KenPom, to score 21 points off turnovers and pull away with the victory. As the Wildcats leaked defenders into the paint to guard against Sanogo it was Jackson, the one they left open, who hit a 3-pointer from the corner that sealed the win.

To avoid the paint-packing, which was what was on Dan Hurley’s mind when he filled the roster with complimentary shooters, the Huskies will have to perform better from deep than the 30% they mustered on Wednesday. The key will be the same for Xavier, the nation’s fourth-best 3-point shooting team by percentage, going against the Huskies defense which is No. 7 in the nation in defending the deep ball and allowing opponents to shoot just 26.5% from beyond the arc.

Here is everything you need to know:

Site: Cintas Center, Cincinnati

Time: Noon

Series: UConn leads, 3-2

Last meeting: Feb. 19, 2022 – UConn 72, Xavier 61 at Gampel Pavilion

Last Xavier win: Feb. 11, 2022 – Xavier 74, UConn 68 at the Cintas Center

TV: FOX, Brandon Gaudin and Donny Marshall

Radio: UConn Sports Network on 97.9 ESPN, Mike Crispino and Wayne Norman

Projected starters for Xavier

24 – Jack Nunge (forward, 7 feet, 245 pounds)

Stats: 15.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 blocks per game, 42.5% on 3-pointers.

Named to the watch list for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar center of the year award and a preseason All-Big East first team selection, Nunge will be tasked with handling Sanogo down low and will provide a tough test for UConn defensively. UConn has yet to have faced a shooting center this season and will have to come up with a defensive game plan that doesn’t leave Sanogo on an island on the perimeter and guards against Nunge inside.

32 – Zach Freemantle (forward, 6-9, 225)

Stats: 14.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists per game.

Xavier has found a way to play Freemantle alongside frontcourt-mate Nunge, which will leave an interesting decision for Hurley as far as defensive assignments. The Huskies will likely guard Freemantle with Jackson or Alex Karaban, but could match Xavier with Donovan Clingan on the floor alongside Sanogo. With Jackson or Karaban on the court at the four, UConn should be able to manage the pace of play and outrace the Musketeers.

0 – Souley Boum (guard, 6-3, 175)

Stats: 17.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.4 steals per game, 50% on 3-pointers.

One of the best transfer stories in college basketball, Boum joined Xavier as a senior after three seasons at UTEP and one at San Francisco and has become the key to the Musketeers’ success. In an offense with designed roles, Boum leads the way with his scoring and has been able to close out games from the free throw line. A point guard, Boum played all 40 minutes in Xavier’s most recent win against St. John’s and turned the ball over just twice.

3 – Colby Jones (guard, 6-6, 205)

Stats: 14.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.5 steals per game, 44.4% on 3-pointers.

The team’s leader in assists, Jones is Xavier’s best on-ball defender and will likely be tasked with guarding Jordan Hawkins, the Huskies’ best backcourt scorer. Another one of Xavier’s preseason All-Big East first team selections, Jones isn’t afraid to drive into the paint and dish the ball out.

5 – Adam Kunkel (guard, 6-4, 185)

Stats: 10.3 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists per game, 39.3% on 3-pointers.

A shooter, Kunkel is second behind Boum in 3-point attempts per game (56) and will be a threat from beyond the arc as UConn sends the defense toward Xavier’s big men and focuses in on Boum in the backcourt.