The UConn Huskies appeared to be on upset alert in the first half against Iona on Saturday. They went into the locker room with a small deficit and blew the door off the Gaels in the second half. The Huskies made some tremendous halftime adjustments and looked like a different team in the final 20 minutes of play.
UConn outscored Iona 54-20 in the second half. The Gaels went cold, and Dan Hurley’s team kept the foot on the gas. There were multiple runs for UConn, which broke the back of Iona, and this will be critical against Saint Mary’s.
The talent is superior for Saint Mary’s, so UConn cannot afford to be off in the first portion of the game. The Huskies are the fourth overall team in the KenPom rankings. They have won with offense this season but still have shown signs of relentlessness in the backcourt. The reason UConn seems to overcome adversity so well thanks to their conference.
The Big East was one of the best conferences in the country, and UConn was dominant amongst a superior group of programs. They’re still a young team, but we’re high on the Huskies moving forward.
Adama Sanogo stole the show for UConn in their first round game against Iona. The forward was ineffective in the first half, but he was spectacular down the stretch. The 6’9” junior played the game of his life, dropping 28 points and 13 rebounds in just 25 minutes.
Hurley limited Sanogo’s minutes in the first half because he wasn’t getting the job done. In the second half, he looked like a different player. He shot 76.5% from the field as well, which was the junior’s best game of the season.
The other player to watch for UConn is Jordan Hawkins, who is averaging 16 points per game. Hawkins and Sanogo play off each other very well, so look for them to make noise in the second round.
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Saint Mary’s stepped up big in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They were the higher seed over VCU, but the betting splits favored the Rams. The West Coast Conference doesn’t get a lot of respect, and VCU had one of the best defensive teams in the country. Nevertheless, the Gaels showed up with an intense defensive effort, holding the Rams to 51 points.
Strength of schedule is critical in the NCAA Tournament, but the Gaels are playing solid basketball as of late. They have dominated nearly every team on their schedule this season except for Gonzaga, which is regarded as one of the best programs in the country.
If Saint Mary’s brings the same defensive intensity moving forward, they have the guard play to make a run in March Madness. The team held VCU to under 37% from the field, which has been standard for them this season. Saint Mary’s is the ninth-ranked defensive unit in the country, according to KenPom.
Saint Mary’s wins with defense, but they do have a few natural scorers that have made big shots throughout the year. The star of the team is Logan Johnson, who is scoring 14.6 points per game. When he isn’t scoring, the 6’2” senior also contributes in a variety of ways on the floor. He is grabbing five boards per game and averaging 3.6 assists per contest.
The other star on the floor for Saint Mary’s is freshman guard Aidan Mahaney. Mahaney has been one of the most efficient freshmen in the country this season, averaging 14.1 points per game. This duo will need to be spectacular to compete with the Huskies.
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The UConn Huskies are the better team in this matchup, and they’ve played the tougher schedule. This is meaningful when the pressure is on during the NCAA Tournament. The concerning quality with UConn is their inability to play complete games. When things are going good for the Huskies, they look like one of the best teams in America. However, we’ve seen them go cold and not bounce back against quality opponents.
Saint Mary’s has won with defense this season, but the size advantage goes to the Huskies. We see UConn trying to get the ball down low to Sanogo throughout this contest. When he is touching the basketball, UConn is a much better team. The difference in the program’s first versus second half against Iona was caused by Sanogo making plays.
For Saint Mary’s to win, they must score early and often. UConn scored 52 points in the second half against Iona, and they’ve made their mark with offense in 2022-23. If the Gaels play a slow pace of basketball, and don’t make their shots, this matchup will be over early.
UConn is laying 3.5 points in this matchup, and we like the favorites. Hurley’s team has hunger, and they’re the more talented group in the second round.
PICK: UConn -3.5
Location: MVP Arena
Game Time & Date: MAR. 19 6:10 pm EST
TV Network: TNT
Streaming: March Madness Live App
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