Thanks to Connecticut, a month-long stretch of new No. 1 teams has stopped. There’s been no end, however, to Syracuse’s drop in the poll.
The top-ranked Huskies look to win their 12th straight game and hand the No. 23 Orange their fifth straight road defeat as the Big East rivals meet Wednesday night.
Connecticut (22-1, 10-1) has held on to the top spot in the AP poll for the second straight week after a span that had a different No. 1 team for four straight weeks. The Huskies were again a runaway No. 1, receiving 67 of 72 first-place votes, after beating then-No. 5 Louisville 68-51 on Feb. 2 and Michigan 69-61 on Saturday.
In its first week as the No. 1 team since 2005-06, Connecticut extended its winning streak to 11 straight. The Huskies haven’t lost since a 74-63 defeat against then-No. 11 Georgetown in the Big East opener on Dec. 29.
Struggling Syracuse (18-6, 6-5) appears to be in no position to slow down UConn. The Orange have dropped five of seven, starting that stretch ranked eighth.
Syracuse fell three spots in this week’s poll, and could easily fall out with a loss to the Huskies. The Orange, who lost 102-85 to then-No. 17 Villanova on Saturday, also host Georgetown on Saturday.
Most of Syracuse’s problems have been on the road, where it has lost four straight. Facing the nation’s top-ranked team at Gampel Pavilion won’t help matters since the Orange are 0-3 all-time there.
The Huskies improved to 11-1 at home with their victory over the Wolverines, and have outscored their opponents at home by an average margin of 22.1 points.
The Huskies return to Big East play after another strong defensive effort. Led by 7-foot-3 junior Hasheem Thabeet, UConn held Michigan to 38.6 percent shooting.
Thabeet scored 17 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and had six blocks. It was the 11th double-double of the season for Thabeet, averaging 13.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.1 blocks.
“He changes the game completely for us,” Huskies guard A.J. Price said. “I don’t know where we’d be without him.”
Thabeet is complemented in the frontcourt by Jeff Adrien, who is coming off a milestone performance.
Adrien had 14 rebounds, the last of which gave him 1,000 for his career. The senior became just the fifth player in UConn history to score 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds and first since Emeka Okafor.
“To be mentioned in the same sentence with someone like Emeka Okafor, to achieve something that Emeka Okafor did, it’s great,” Adrien said. “I’ve come from a player who couldn’t play at high Division I, and now I’m here. It’s an honor.”
Adrien, averaging a team-high 14.1 points per game, was held to nine versus Michigan. But he helped the Huskies top the Wolverines on the boards 47-24.
UConn has yet to be outrebounded in a game this season.
The Orange, meanwhile, were outrebounded 44-37 by Villanova and don’t seem to have an answer for Thabeet. Syracuse’s only player over 6-foot-9, Sean Williams at 6-11, has appeared in only 10 games in two seasons.
At 275 pounds, 6-9 forward Arinze Onuaku will likely try to use his bulk to try and keep Thabeet in check. Onuaku has posted 11.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game but has struggled in recent weeks, averaging 5.4 points and 6.0 rebounds in his last five contests.
Onuaku was held to six points on 3-of-8 shooting in Syracuse’s 63-61 loss to UConn on Feb. 6, 2008. The Orange, however, have won three of the last five meetings and two of the last three in which the Huskies were ranked No. 1.