Edging Past Zach Edey and Co in Rankings, Can UConn Continue to Outdo Purdue?

Published 01/23/2024, 10:27 AM EST

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USA Today via Reuters

The University of Connecticut Huskies have a 17-2 tally and with their brilliant performance, they have recently made it to the top in the AP men’s basketball polls. And in the Big East too, the UConn occupy the top spot with a 7-1 tally. Now that they have overtaken the Purdue Boilermakers in the men’s AP poll recently, this current change in positions has intrigued the experts as to who would be the prime contender for winning the NCAA tournament.

Both teams have their own strengths and weaknesses and analyzing them would give us a better picture.

How have the Boilermakers performed?

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The Purdue Boilermakers had occupied the top position for a long time. They have lost only two games against the Northwestern Wildcats and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. To speak of their brilliance, the Boilermakers had lost against the Wildcats in overtime.

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Since the beginning of the tournament, they have relied on their potential NPOY winner Zach Edey. Edey has been dominating the game in both points average and rebounds average. He has been the alpha of his team. He has besotted a spectacular 23.3 points per game with 11.5 rebounds per match. Most of the time the other players have been the second fiddle to Edey.

Though their guards Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer have stepped up on different occasions to pot above 25 points, the problem aching the Boilermakers is the lack of consistency from their other star players. The Boilermakers are prime contenders for the NCAA title this season and nobody can deny that. However, on a close analysis one can see an overreliance on Edey.

Their main strategy too involves depending on one alpha in a particular game while the others play around him. But this tactic might fail going up in the tournament during crucial games since other players do not have much experience in being the alpha. It has chiefly been Edey. Another player who amped up his skills was their forward Trey Kaufman-Renn but he too lacks the consistency.

It would be surprising to note that after Edey, the next athlete in points average is their guard Lance Jones. He has an average of a decent 11.9 points per game. He has demonstrated consistency but where he lacks is that he has mostly played the second fiddle. He hasn’t been the alpha for this team. Plus going by their points average, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Boilermakers lack a proper second player. Most of their players’ averages are mostly like the average of a third or fourth player in a college basketball team.

Another important point to note is that they lack depth. The question that looms over them is if they will be able to continue winning in the tournament if something perchance happens to Edey. Or if such a situation arises that the players need to be rotated. Will they be able to step up to the occasion and be the fiery athlete that is expected of them? Only time will answer these questions as the tournament progresses.

How have the UConn performed?

The UConn have also lost only two games that too against the Kansas Jayhawks and the Seton Hall. The Jayhawks are a top tier team and hence this loss should not be taken seriously. Plus the way they have recovered speaks volumes about them. They have some underrated players like their guards Cam Spencer and Tristen Newton. But what they lack is an alpha. Though different players have played the alpha when needed their points-scoring ability has always had a limit to it. 

Spencers, Newton, forward Alex Karaban, and center Donovan Clingan have soused considerable points mostly ranging in the 20s when needed, they don’t have a singular player who can cross the 30 to 40-point mark when needed. Their games too have been mostly moderately scoring. This shows that they are ready to fall back on defense when the situation demands. And go offensive when chances are created.

They have played together as a team and going ahead in the tournament they will have to stick to their strength. Plus, to some extent, it can be said that they too lack depth. Their average drops rapidly after their guard Stephon Castle. Then averages dip below 6 points.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Huskies will more or less fall back on their defense and try to put up a wall against their opponents. Because if they give space to the contesting team, then it needs to be seen if their offense can perform consistently and also deliver performances that have a flurry of points. 

Though they have touched the 100 mark twice, it has been possible due to their players contributing together as a team. During the game against the Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Karaban smoked a game-high 26 points but the 100 mark wouldn’t have been crossed if the rest of their players hadn’t chipped it. And mostly the match saw a lot of rotation from their end with players potting less than 10 points mostly. So who stands a better chance?

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Which team stands a better chance?

While the Boilermakers have to work on their consistency and playing together as a team, the UConn have to have a dominating alpha who can lead the game. Another point that the Purdue lack is depth and the UConn too lacks that to some extent.

The UConn’s reaction needs to be seen when things go haywire for them. If they can produce that boy with the golden touch who can be the cure to all their problems. Whereas for the Purdue it is vital to have a backup if Edey is not able to perform well.

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But how both the teams have performed till now, I would give an extra pointer to the Boilermakers for producing players who can rise up to the occasion. And going ahead, the Boilermakers might have an upper edge against their top-ranked opponents. 

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Written by:

Ritvan Pande

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Edited by:

Bilal Handoo