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Big East Basketball: Preview and keys to Xavier vs. UConn matchup

The Xavier Musketeers look to regaining their footing in the Big East, while UConn looks to continue their pursuit of back-to-back National Championships.

Connecticut v Butler
Connecticut v Butler / Michael Hickey/GettyImages
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Three Big Questions and The Bottom Line

Can the Musketeers disrupt UConn’s offence?

On paper, this doesn’t seem like a very fair fight. UConn’s offence comes into this game ranked 27th in the nation, scoring 83.5 PPG while shooting an efficient .505 percent from the field, good enough for 10th in the NCAA. 

Meanwhile, Xavier's offence never quite recovered from their off-season overhaul. The team averages 74.6 PPG, placing them at 187th in the country. However, the Musketeers’ saving grace lies within the passing stats. The team ranks within the top-25 assists per game with 17.2. 

In both of Xavier’s quality wins over Cincinnati and Seton Hall, the team out-assisted their opponent and found ways to disrupt ball movement. Sean Miller will need to deploy a similar strategy if he hopes to find success against UConn Wednesday evening.

Will Donovan Clingan suit up?

When UConn’s starting center went down with an ankle sprain on December 20th, his recovery time was estimated to be three to four weeks. As Wednesday's game approaches, three weeks have passed, but Donovan Clingan still remains a game-time decision. 

However, Dan Hurley and Co. have no reason to rush the sophomore back. The Huskies are currently riding a three-game winning streak, as the revamped starting five has found ways  to be effective. As they stare down Wednesday’s clash with Xavier, Clingan feels much more like an added bonus for UConn, rather than a determining factor.

Which guards will shine?

The backcourt battle t on display in this contest might quite possibly be the class of the Big East. Two of the conference’s top three-point shooters in Quincy Olivari and Cam Spencer enter ready to shoot the lights out. Dayvion McKnight and Tristen Newton accompany each guard respectively, both boasting top-five assist numbers in the Big East. 

With the backcourts evenly matched, Xavier’s third guard in the starting lineup could help tip the scales in their favour. Sophomore Desmond Claude has been a godsend for the Musketeers early on, contributing 14.8 PPG through 14 games. 

Claude will likely match up against Stephon Castle, who’s averaging 4.3 assists in his past three games as a starter. Look for the Musketeer to try to amplify his team’s home court advantage by applying pressure and forcing the freshman into making bad passes early on.

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Xavier’s roster shortcomings are difficult to overlook. The Musketeers do not have the depth to contend with UConn inside and out, despite the looming threat of an offensive downpour from any of the team’s starting guards. Look for the Huskies to find their way to victory on the road here, whether Clingan suits up or not.

This game will tip-off at 8:30pm ET on January 10, 2024, at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, broadcast on FS1.