Connecticut and Saint Mary’s meet in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16 in the West region.
The Huskies cruised by Iona in their tournament opener, picking up a 24-point victory for their 26th win of the season.
Meanwhile, the Gaels also covered their spread in the first round, defeating VCU 63-51.
These schools like to play at slow tempos, which should lead to this being a lower-scoring game in Albany, New York.
You already know what to expect from a Randy Bennett-coached team — slow and methodical on offense, and paired with a solid defense. Well, this year’s version is no different.
The defense was on full display in the opener as Saint Mary’s held the Rams to just 51 points on 36.7% shooting. This is a defensive unit that ranks in the top 25 in multiple defensive categories, according to BartTorvik, including AdjD (6th), EFG% (23rd), opponents’ offensive rebound rate (2nd) and defending 2-pointers (19th).
The offense is also well-balanced with four players who average double figures. That unit is led by Logan Johnson (14.6 PPG) and Aidan Mahaney (14.1 PPG). Johnson was also named the West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
As a team, the Gaels are in the top 70 in AdjO (40th), offensive rebounding (44th) and 3-point% (66th). They will need to be efficient against a tough UConn defense.
The Huskies were finally able to advance beyond the first round under coach Dan Hurley, a feat they were unable to accomplish in each of the past two seasons. However, can they take it one step further and get to the second weekend?
Hurley has built a very strong team in his third year with the program. UConn is one of just four squads still in the tournament that ranks in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
The Huskies defend shots from both inside and outside the arc at an elite level and are one of the best defensive teams in the country.
The offense is led by the duo of Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, who combine to average 33.1 PPG. Sanogo was the star against Iona, scoring a game-high 28 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
Whenever you have two great defenses and a pair of slow offenses, my eyes look toward the total, which has already dropped since some of the openers were posted.
I agree with the move. My best bet is for the total to fall under 128 points, and I’d play the under to 126.5.
I touched on the excellent defensive units above, but it’s also important to note that both teams prefer to operate at slower tempos, which makes this an even better bet. UConn is ranked 214th in tempo by Kenpom, while Saint Mary’s is much slower at 359th.
In fact, only Virginia, Jacksonville, Charlotte and North Texas play slower on the offensive end of the floor than the Gaels. This is also the same team that is 262nd in the country in shot attempts per game.
If I were picking a side, I would probably lean toward the Huskies, especially with it possibly feeling like a home game as UConn will be just a couple of hours from campus. However, I’ll stick with the total in a contest I don’t believe will have many possessions.
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