UConn opens AAC play at Tulane with title aspirations
Since the break-up of the old Big East Conference, there's been plenty of grumbling from the UConn basketball fan base about its current conference home.
The majority are unhappy with the Huskies residing in the American Athletic Conference.
That's certainly understandable, given the AAC is still fighting to earn respect in the college basketball world and lacks the prestige and power of UConn's former conference neighborhood.
From a competitive standpoint, the Huskies have yet to become a dominant force in the AAC's two seasons. They're without a conference title — regular season or postseason tournament — and are a combined 22-14 in league play, but do have a 2014 national championship to show for their efforts.
This season, they're hoping to change that.
UConn (9-3) opens conference play on Saturday against Tulane in New Orleans (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) with its sights set on winning a conference championship.
The Huskies were picked to finish second behind Southern Methodist in the AAC preseason coaches' poll. So far, the Mustangs are the best team, standing at 12-0 overall and No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Any team with championship aspirations has to be successful on the road. Last season, the Huskies only went 3-6 in AAC road games and finished 10-8, tying for fifth place.
UConn can start building its case Saturday. The Huskies are winless in their previous two conference season openers, losing to Temple in overtime last season in Hartford.
Coach Kevin Ollie sized up what lies ahead before leaving on the current two-game road trip.
"Tulane, they played us tough down there last year," Ollie said. "You've got Temple that swept us last year and then you've got Cincinnati. It's keeps going on and on and on. They're going to be tough teams and they're going to be ready to fight."
UConn showed some fight in its first true road game on Tuesday, holding off Texas 71-66 to snap the Longhorns' six-game winning streak. The Huskies displayed poise under pressure while scoring a desperately needed signature win.
It was one of a few marquee games left on the schedule. Of UConn's 19 remaining regular-season games, only three opponents rank in the RPI's top 100, according to the NCAA. That's SMU (No. 5), Tulsa (No. 84) and Temple (No. 96), which all play the Huskies twice.
The Huskies, who sit at 83rd in the RPI, can't afford any bad losses.
Saturday's game would be in that category. Tulane (7-7, 0-1) was chosen to finish last in the AAC coaches' preseason poll. The Green Wave dropped their conference opener at Memphis, 77-65, on Tuesday.
Last season, UConn swept the season series but won by just nine and seven points.
The Huskies expect to deal with everyone's best in every conference game. They'll be attempting to extend their winning streak to five games.
"Conference play is a grind," junior Rodney Purvis said recently. "You have to grind each and every game out. ... There's home court advantage everywhere you go. We're UConn, so each game is going to be packed. We're just taking the 15 guys we have going into every single hostile environment and hopefully we can come out with the win."
UConn at Tulane
UCONN at TULANE
Location: Devlin Fieldhouse, New Orleans, La.
Tip: 7:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Records: UConn 9-3, 0-0; Tulane 7-7, 0-1
Last game: UConn won at Texas, 71-66, Tuesday; Tulane lost at Memphis, 77-65, Tuesday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-2 grad. guard Sterling Gibbs (11.5 pts), 6-4 r-jr. guard Rodney Purvis (15.3 pts), 6-7 so. forward Daniel Hamilton (13 pts, 8.4 rebs, 5.6 assists), 6-7 grad. forward Shonn Miller (13 pts, 5.5 rebs), 6-10 jr. forward Kentan Facey (4.8 pts, 5 rebs)
Tulane, 6-3 sr. guard Louis Dabney (13.2 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-1 fr. guard Von Julien (3 pts), 6-4 r-jr. guard Malik Morgan (11.6 pts, 5 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Dylan Osetkowski (10.4 pts, 9.1 rebs), 6-10 grad. forward Jernard Jerreau (7.8 pts, 5.8 rebs)
Noteworthy: AAC opener for the Huskies... Riding 4-game winning streak. ... Series: UConn leads 2-0, sweeping season series last season winning 62-53 at Tulane. ... Kevin Ollie 0-3 in season openers as head coach. ... Dabney an All-AAC second team pick last season. ... Osetkowski five double-doubles this season. ... Top reserve: 6-7 so. guard Cameron Reynolds (7.2 pts, 3.4 rebs). ... Hot: UConn shooting 57.6 percent in the last four games. Cold: Tulane shooting just 42.4 percent from field, 64.1 percent from line. ... Tulane 5-2 at home. ... Injury update: UConn's Amida Brimah (broken finger) out. ... UConn second in FG percentage (50.9) and FG percentage defense (38.1) in AAC. ... Up next: UConn hosts Temple Tuesday in Hartford.
— Gavin Keefe