March Madness rambles on in the West Region as the No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s Gaels face the No. 4 seed UConn Huskies in the Round of 32 on Sunday.
Not only will this be a fantastic matchup between two of the best defenses in the country, but it will also be a matchup between two analytics darlings.
The Gaels took care of business 63-51 over a feisty VCU team in the first round while the Huskies dominated the second half against Iona in an 87-63 win and are favored on the March Madness odds board here.
Which team will advance to the Sweet 16 of this year’s NCAA Tournament? Check out our college basketball picks and predictions for Saint Mary’s vs. UConn to find out. For more, check out our March Madness picks.
Saint Mary's vs UConn best odds
Saint Mary's vs UConn picks and predictions
Sunday’s matchup in Albany is arguably the highest-level game on tap for the second round. Both teams are analytic darlings — UConn checks in at fourth overall in KenPom while Saint Mary’s isn’t far behind at 12th. It’s not often that you see two Top-12 teams meet on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but this West Region is as tough as it gets.
These teams have some similarities. First, they are both helmed by two of the best coaches in the sport. Randy Bennett has accumulated a 71% winning percentage across 22 seasons in Moraga while reaching the big dance nine times. Dan Hurley may not be widely regarded as one of the nation’s best coaches yet, but he was successful at Rhode Island and has now positioned UConn near the top of the Big East yet again.
Secondly, both teams are great defensively. UConn ranks 19th in defensive efficiency per KenPom, while Saint Mary’s ranks eighth. Good luck scoring on these teams without coming away both physically and mentally battered.
Thirdly, both teams got out to a hot start in the preseason this year and never looked back. UConn immediately made its presence known as a powerhouse with a 14-0 record across its first 14 games. Were those wins all against cupcakes? Absolutely not — the Huskies defeated Alabama by 15 points and toppled four other Power Conference programs in Oregon, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Florida.
Saint Mary’s is generally criticized for its soft schedule, so the Gaels faced more difficult competition in the non-conference portion of the schedule this year and didn’t fair too poorly, pulling off wins over tournament teams in Oral Roberts, Vermont, and San Diego State — three teams with a combined 81-22 record.
This will be a game between two very tough teams and I think baskets will be hard to come by, so I’ll target the Under. Both teams rank within the Top 20 in defensive efficiency. UConn surrendered just 64.8 points per game while Saint Mary’s allowed 59.3 points per game — good for a combined 124.1.
UConn doesn’t have a true point guard, so it prefers to run its offense through the post and in transition. Why? The Huskies have one of the best big men in the country in Adama Sanogo, who averaged 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
They surround him with loads of athleticism and shooters, so either Sanogo gets a good look inside or he kicks it out for an open deep ball. The Huskies shoot 36.1% from deep on a whopping 25.2 attempts per game.
Saint Mary’s just so happens to excel defensively in the post, ranking seventh in near-proximity defense per Haslametrics. Mitchell Saxen is a fearsome rim protector who is very sound positionally, and the help defensive is extremely well-coached and collapses at the perfect time. The Gaels also shut down the 3-point line, ranking fourth in 3-point attempt rate allowed and 30th in 3-point defense allowed against the average opponent (Haslametrics).
The Gaels are limited offensively and therefore prefer to slow the game down to a crawl, ranking 359th in adjusted tempo (KenPom). They, too, prefer to get the ball down low on offense. UConn is adept at defending the paint, ranking 32nd in field goal percentage allowed at the rim (53.4%). I expect the Gaels to slow this game down as much as possible in an attempt to compensate for being at a severe athletic disadvantage.
Saint Mary’s is 8-3 to the Under in its last 11 NCAA Tournament games and I’ll be backing that trend to continue.
My best bet: Under 129.5 (-110 at bet365)
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Saint Mary's vs UConn spread analysis
The spread opened at UConn -3 but has moved to -3.5 across the board at current.
A backer of Saint Mary’s would point out that the Gaels are well-positioned to guard the Huskies’ offense. Hurley’s squad lacks a true point guard and while that hasn’t cost them much to date, it could in this matchup.
Operating offense through the post generally works against most college basketball teams because few have the defensive capabilities of slowing down Sanogo, and if they do, it’s at the risk of leaving the 3-point line wide open. The Gaels excel at protecting the paint, ranking 13th in field-goal percentage allowed at the rim (51.7%).
A Saint Mary’s backer might also point out that while UConn has an athleticism advantage, it will be difficult for it to utilize that in transition as the Gaels are pretty good at slowing teams down with their defensive game plan, ranking 50th in percentage of shots allowed in transition.
All those points hint at a low-scoring game and while I targeted the Under as my best bet, I still like the Huskies against the spread and will be placing a wager on them at -3.5.
Saint Mary’s has struggled with good offensive teams that have an athleticism advantage in the past, losing to New Mexico once and Gonzaga twice. The Huskies are one of the most athletic teams in the country and rank fourth in offensive efficiency. I simply think UConn has way more offensive firepower than the Gaels and like the Huskies to advance, although it may not be as easy as the numbers make it seem.
Saint Mary's vs UConn Over/Under analysis
The Under is 4-0 in UConn’s last four games following an ATS win and is 4-1 in its last five games overall. This is a difficult team to score on considering it has plenty of size and athleticism.
Both starting guards stand at 6-foot-5, the starting wings stand 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9, respectively, while Sanogo is 6-foot-9 as well. Freshman Donovan Klingan who had 12 points and nine rebounds in the opening round, comes off the bench at 7-foot-2. What a luxury to have, right Hurley?
Saint Mary’s second-leading scorer is Aidan Mahaney, a freshman point guard who averages 14.1 ppg. He was held scoreless against VCU and played just 16 minutes while dealing with foul trouble. He’s struggled at times when playing against better athletes and I think that will be the case again here.
The Gaels simply refuse to get out and run, ranking 362nd out of 363 teams in percentage of shots taken in transition. That means they’ll mostly play in the half-court, which is where UConn’s defense excels. The Huskies rank 14th in non-transition effective field-goal percentage allowed, limiting opponents to 44.7% on those looks.
The pace should be slow and the efficiency is not projected to be great.
Saint Mary's vs UConn betting trend to know
Saint Mary’s is 8-3 to the Under in its last 11 NCAA Tournament games. Find more college basketball betting trends for Saint Mary's vs. UConn.
Saint Mary's vs UConn game info
|Location:||MVP Arena, Albany, NY|
|Date:||Sunday, March 19, 2023|
|Tip-off:||6:10 p.m. ET|