The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
MEN’S BASKETBALL GAMEDAY
NO. 20 PROVIDENCE AT NO. 18 UCONN
When: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Gampel Pavilion
Records: Providence 20-7 (12-4 Big East), UConn 20-7 (9-7 Big East)
Radio: UConn Sports Network, WAVZ-New Haven (1300 AM), WGCH- Greenwich (1490 AM), WATR-Waterbury (1320 AM), WICH-Norwich (1310 AM, 94.5 FM), WILI-Wilimantic (1400 AM, 95.3 FM), 97.9 FM-ESPN Hartford, SiriusXM-983, SXM App 973
KEEP AN EYE ON
Border battle: Both teams are 20-7. Both are ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation, per this week’s AP Top 25 poll. Their respective campuses are separated by a mere 50 miles. Their respective head coaches used to work out together in the same gym.
Yet the UConn and Providence College men’s basketball teams couldn’t have been constructed much differently.
UConn’s Dan Hurley isn’t a huge fan of the NCAA transfer portal. He prefers to build a program through recruiting top-notch high school talent, and augmenting it with transfers to fill certain roles. Two summers ago, UConn was one of the few Power Six teams in the nation not to bring in a single transfer. This past summer, the Huskies brought in four. But only one (point guard Tristen Newton) is a starter who plays more than 18 minutes per game.
PC’s Ed Cooley has hit the jackpot on the transfer portal in consecutive seasons. Last season, he brought in a host of high-level transfers to go with the Friars’ existing roster, which also featured several transfers. PC won its first regular-season Big East championship in school history and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.
This season, Cooley has brought in even better talent: Bryce Hopkins from Kentucky, Devin Carter from South Carolina and Noah Locke from Louisville (a UConn target out of the portal) are starters and three of the team’s top four scorers. All five of the Friars’ starting lineup are transfers from other schools.
As UConn looks to avenge an “embarrassing” 73-61 Jan. 4 loss at Providence on Wednesday, the transfer the Huskies will be most focused on stopping is Hopkins. The 6-foot-7 swingman leads the Friars and is tied with UConn’s Adama Sanogo for first in the Big East in scoring (16.9 points) and second in rebounding (9.3 per game).
More to the point, he torched the Huskies for 27 points in that Jan. 4 game. Hopkins was virtually unstoppable going to the hole and wound up hitting 13 of 15 free throws.
Freshman Alex Karaban was tasked with guarding Hopkins, and obviously it was a struggle. Andre Jackson Jr., a 6-6 athlete who’s a nominee for National Defensive Player of the Year, would seem to be a better option, though that would leave different defensive mismatches against the Friars’ smaller lineup.
Karaban has improved defensively since that game. Will he get the Hopkins assignment on Wednesday night? Or will Jackson, who probably would have guarded Hopkins more often on Jan. 4 had he not been plagued by foul trouble, get the call?
One of the many intriguing questions for a most intriguing border war.