Who: No. 10 Saint Joseph’s (24-9) vs. No. 7 UConn (26-8)
When: 6:55 Thursday night
Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
-Schedule snapshot: The Huskies, who are ranked No. 18 in the AP Top 25, have some impressive wins, including handing Florida one of its two losses and beating Cincinnati in The American Conference tournament semifinals. They have some notable losses, too, including twice to non-tournament qualifier SMU and a 33-point rout at Louisville on March 8. UConn enters Thursday’s game following Saturday’s 71-61 loss to Louisville in the AAC title game.
-Top threat: Shabazz Napier, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, leads three Huskies in scoring at 17.4 ppg. The AAC Player of the Year, Napier tops UConn in scoring, assists (4.9 apg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg). A good 3-point shooter who makes 39 percent of his triples (67-172), Napier is an excellent free-throw shooter at 85.9 percent (176-205).
-Other threats: DeAndre Daniels, a 6-9 junior forward, is second in scoring at 12.5 ppg. But, as Temple fans can attest, Daniels is a threat to go off. He had 31 points and 12 boards in UConn’s 90-66 home win over Temple on Jan. 21. … Ryan Boatright rounds out UConn’s double-figure scorers at 11.8 ppg. … The Hawks will need to follow 6-7 senior sharpshooter Niels Giffey, who shoots 52.5 percent (53-101) from the arc.
-Team stats: 71.9 ppg, 44.8 FG%, 38.7 3PT%, 76.1 FT%, 35.4 rpg, 12.6 apg, 11.7 turnovers, 7.0 spg, 6.2 bpg.
-Did you know? Former Penn coach Glen Miller is an assistant on head coach Kevin Ollie’s staff. Ollie, of course, is a former member of the 76ers.
Scouting St. Joe’s
-Schedule snapshot: At 4-4 and coming off an embarrassing 30-point home loss to Villanova on Dec. 7, many thought the Hawks were headed south for the winter. But a five-game winning streak sparked a turnaround that stretched into a solid Atlantic 10 regular-season campaign that ended with an 11-5 mark. The Hawks rebounded from a strange home loss to La Salle in the regular-season finale by running off three straight wins in the conference tournament, culminating with Sunday’s 65-61 championship game victory over VCU, to claim its first A-10 title since 1997 and first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.
-Top threat: Langston Galloway, a 6-2 senior, averages 17.5 points and shoots 43.9 percent from the arc. He was even better in Brooklyn last weekend in three games, averaging 22.7 points and nailing 56.5 percent of his treys.
-Other threats: Senior forward Halil Kanacevic is St. Joe’s Mr. Do Everything, leading the team in rebounds (8.8 rpg), assists (4.4 apg) and blocks (1.5 bpg) to go with 10.7 points per game. Kanacevic shined in Brooklyn and displayed a controlled aggression that gives the Hawks an edge. In three games at Barclays Center, 6-foot-8 Kanacevic averaged 15.3 points and 14.3 rebounds – and several hard-hitting (and legal) screens. … Ronald Roberts, a 6-8 senior forward, is the Hawks’ most athletic player and most likely to play above the rim. He averages 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds. … Freshman DeAndre Bembry, a 6-6 wing, has displayed flashes of brilliance while getting 12 points and 4.5 boards per contest.
-Team stats: 71.3 ppg, 46.9 FG%, 38.0 3PT%, 64.1 FT%, 35.9 rpg, 14.1 apg, 12.3 turnovers, 4.5 spg, 4.6 bpg.
-Did you know? St. Joe’s opened its run to the Elite 8 in the 2004 NCAA tournament in Buffalo when the Jameer Nelson-led Hawks beat Liberty and Texas Tech to advance to the second weekend.
-Why UConn will win: The speedy Napier is a tough guard for anyone and will be especially tough for the Hawks, something Hawks coach Phil Martelli admitted in a radio interview this week when referencing Napier’s quickness. … The Huskies will get the depth-challenged Hawks into foul trouble early. … UConn will win the free-throw battle against the charity-stripe challenged Hawks, who shoot just 64.1 percent from the line.
-Why St. Joe’s will win: The Hawks tore through the A-10 title game and bring a high level of confidence – and perhaps an edge from a perceived slight as a No. 10 seed – into Buffalo. … Galloway and Kancevic will continue their white-hot pace. … Martelli’s grandson will give a winning pregame talk.
-Prediction: The matchup initially looked perilous for the Hawks until a closer look at the numbers revealed two fairly evenly matched teams. St. Joe’s doesn’t have a star like Napier, but UConn doesn’t have the starting depth of the Hawks. It’s a little shaky because of great concerns about overall depth and free-throw shooting, but the Hawks will advance to the third round on Saturday with a 72-67 win.
-Aaron Bracy is the founder of Philahoops.com. Follow on Twitter: @Aaron_Bracy