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How to watch UConn men vs. 16-seed Stetson in NCAA Tournament first round

NEW YORK – UConn begins its bid for back-to-back titles on Friday against a Stetson team led by coach Donnie Jones, a man who’s been there, done that.

Jones was an assistant on Billy Donovan’s Florida staff when the Gators won consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007. No team has done it since.

“(UConn’s) equipped, there’s no question,” Jones said Thursday. “They’ve got depth, they’ve got experience, they’ve got coaching, Dan (Hurley’s) done a great job. They’ve got tradition, they’ve played an incredible schedule and been consistent all year long.

“To do it back-to-back is very hard to do, there’s only been a few teams to do that in 50 years. That group we had at Florida to be able to do that, we had a unique brotherhood and closeness. I look at Dan’s roster, he’s got five guys averaging double-figures, his team is good like our team was. We had five guys that averaged double-figures back-to-back year, the same guys. So it’s just not one or two guys that carry that team. They have a lot of different weapons and I think with that, it gives them the possibility to do that.”

Of course, Jones would prefer to knock the Huskies out on Friday and become just the third 16-seed to pull off a first round upset. UMBC was the first program to do it, knocking out 1-seed Virginia in 2018, and Fairleigh Dickinson famously knocked out Purdue last season.

Stetson, the Atlantic Sun tournament champ, is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance.

The Hatters finished the regular season 22-12, their most notable win coming on the road at UCF in November, less than two weeks after seeing how they matched up against Houston (79-48 loss), another 1-seed in this tournament. They beat Austin Peay 94-91 to win the conference tournament.

Guard Jalen Blackmon, averaging 21.5 points per game, is only 12 points away from the school’s single-season scoring record and already holds its record for 3-pointer in a season (109). Hurley gave Blackmon high praise after the matchup was revealed, calling him “one of the better guards we’ll have played against this year.” Belgian point guard Stephan Swenson, a senior, is the program’s all-time assist leader with 602 in his career and, averaging 5.9 per game this year, set the single-season mark (201).

The Hatters are bolstered inside by 6-foot-11 center Aubin Gateretse, also from Belgium, who averages 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. They enter the tournament 34th in the nation in 3-pointers per game (9.1) and 28th in 3-point percentage (37%).

“I think in every game you play, whether they are early season, November, if we get away from our identity, we have issues,” Hurley said. “What keeps us bulletproof though, is we’re No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency, Top-10 in defense, we generally rebound the ball as good as anyone in the country. We play harder than our opponent, we are elite with our preparation and we don’t care who the hero is on a given night.

“That’s a formula that will keep you bulletproof in a lot of games and make it really hard for somebody to get you. We stick to that script. We can come in here with confidence but we respect Stetson. We respect everyone that we play because you know, we know what this tournament is all about.”

UConn is 19-4 in NCAA Tournament first round games since seeding began in 1979. It is the program’s sixth time entering the tournament as a 1-seed, including 1999, when the program won its first national championship, and 2009, when it suffered its only Final Four loss.

What to know

Site: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Time: 2:45 p.m.

Series: First meeting

Records: 1-seed UConn: (31-3), 16-seed Stetson: (22-12)

TV: CBS – Ian Eagle, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson

Radio: UConn Sports Network on FOX Sports 97.9 – Mike Crispino and Wayne Norman