FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
There are no American Athletic Conference teams in this year’s preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll. Only Cincinnati (No. 34 overall) and UCF (No. 35) garnered votes.
With that in mind, most of UConn’s big games will be on its non-conference slate. The Huskies will face at least three teams ranked in the preseason Top 25, and possibly four, if they get Oregon in the second game of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden. And that’s not even including Arizona, a perennial powerhouse that could be down a bit this season after a wave of departures to the NBA last spring. UConn hosts the Wildcats on Dec. 2 at the XL Center.
Here are 5 games to watch this season for UConn:
Syracuse, Thursday, Nov. 15, 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden:
The Huskies will face their old Big East nemesis for the fourth consecutive season, this time in a 2K Classic bout at the World’s Most Famous Arena. The Orange have won two of the first three non-conference meetings, including last season — 72-63 at the Garden in the Jimmy V Classic. Syracuse, which owns a 56-38 overall edge in the rivalry, will be heavy favorites this season. The Orange are ranked No. 16 in the preseason AP Top 25, and it says here they could be even better than that. Coming off a surprise run to the Sweet 16, Syracuse is bursting with talent, led by All-America candidate Tyus Battle, talented bigs Oshae Brissett and 7-footer Pascal Chukwu (a Fairfield Prep grad), point guard Frank Howard and some impressive freshmen (including former UConn recruiting target Jalen Carey and Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim’s son, Buddy). The Orange are Final Four-good.
Florida State, Saturday, Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m. at Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.:
The Seminoles are fresh off a trip to the Elite 8 and bring back their top two scorers: power forward Phil Cofer and 6-foot-7 wing Terrance Mann, a former UConn recruiting target. They’re ranked right behind Syracuse at No. 17 in the preseason AP poll. This game is the nightcap of a Never Forget Tribute Classic doubleheader, raising money for children of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It will also be a homecoming of sorts for UConn coach Dan Hurley, who hails from nearby Jersey City and played at Seton Hall.
Villanova, Saturday, Dec. 22, 12:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden:
Another bout with a former Big East rival at the Garden, this time against the defending national champions. This is the second of a threegame series between the two schools; ’Nova rolled to an 81-61 win in Hartford last season. The ninth-ranked Wildcats lost their top four scorers to the NBA draft, but figure to be strong again behind solid returnees Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, along with newcomers Jahvon Quinerly, a McDonald’s All-American, and shooters Cole Swider and Albany transfer Joe Cremo. Villanova boasts a 34-31 overall advantage in the rivalry.
UCF, Saturday, Jan. 5, noon at XL Center:
Led by perhaps the league’s best trio of players — preseason American Conference player of the year B.J. Tyson, 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall and Aubrey Dawkins, the talented son of coach Johnny Dawkins — the Knights were picked to win the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll. A lot of that depends on health, of course — Tyson and Fall played just one game together last year due to injuries, and Dawkins missed the entire season. Anyway, it’s always fun to watch Tacko, one of the tallest human beings on the planet.
Cincinnati, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2 p.m. at XL Center:
Since the AAC began six seasons ago, the closest UConn has had to a rival has been with fellow Big East refugee Cincinnati. The Bearcats have been the league’s most consistently good team and are working on eight straight appearances in the NCAA tournament — where they always seems to disappoint. Cincy lost three of its top players — including AAC player of the year Gary Clark and NBA draft pick Jacob Evans — from last year’s league champ, but should still be strong behind burly guard Jarron Cumberland and East Hartford’s Cane Broome, a former Sacred Heart University star. Cincinnati has won its last five and seven of its last eight meetings with UConn — the lone loss courtesy of Jalen Adams’ 75-foot prayer in the 2016 AAC tournament.