When: Sunday, March 19
Where: MVP Arena — Albany, New York
TV: TNT — Want to watch the Huskies all tournament long? Sign up for SlingTV to watch all of the March Madness games.
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -3.5, over/under 128 - Odds presented by DraftKings
KenPom Predicted Score: No. 4 UConn 66, No. 5 Saint Mary’s 63 | 59 percent win probability
UConn men’s basketball survived a strong start from Iona to comfortably get past the Gaels in round one on Friday, avenging a two-point halftime deficit to cruise to an 87-63 victory.
With the Huskies now in the second round for the first time since 2016, UConn will have to take down another Gaels squad — 5-seed Saint Mary’s — to get to the second weekend for the first time since the title run in 2014.
Saint Mary’s advanced to the second round after handling 12-seed VCU comfortably with a big second half, outscoring the Rams 34-23 in the final 20 minutes. The win over VCU was Saint Mary’s first win over a top-60 team in KenPom since Feb. 4, when the Gaels beat Gonzaga at home in overtime.
For comparison, UConn has four top-60 wins in that same span.
Despite some generally weak competition outside of Gonzaga in the WCC, the metrics still love Saint Mary’s. The Gaels rank No. 12 overall in KenPom and boast the ninth-best defensive efficiency in the country, giving up 70-plus points just five times on the season. That doesn’t bode well for Dan Hurley and the Huskies, who are one of the best teams in the country at closing out games once they get to 69 points.
Does winning the "Race to 69" always work?— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) February 15, 2023
Here are the updated team and conference stats you need to know about the "Race to 69", made famous by @titusandtate.
The hilarious part? The longest Race to 69 win streak in the country is… 69 games long. pic.twitter.com/fUTpk0B6rG
Even with a tough matchup against the Gaels, Sportsbooks still think highly of the Huskies’ chances to advance. DraftKings has UConn at +380 to win the West Region — the second-best odds behind UCLA — and are +180 to reach the Elite Eight.
When UConn Has the Ball
As good as the Gaels are on the boards, UConn’s big men tandem of Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan is better. The two combined for nearly half of the Huskies’ 87 points in the win over Iona and will need a similar performance to get by Saint Mary’s.
Possessions will be extra important with Saint Mary’s trying to keep them down. If the Gaels do a good job at keeping the bigs off the glass, perhaps Andre Jackson, a capable rebounder in his own right, could use his athleticism to contribute.
Currently, Saint Mary’s ranks second nationally in preventing offensive rebounds on defense, while UConn ranks first overall in offensive rebound percentage. The Huskies’ ability to extend possessions with offensive rebounds (or lack thereof) will likely decide this game, after shooting of course.
After struggling mightily in the Big East Tournament loss to Marquette, Jordan Hawkins couldn't get anything going in the first half of his first NCAA tournament game. The sophomore didn’t make a shot in 20 scoreless minutes but bounced back in a big way with 13 second-half points and three 3-pointers.
While UConn was able to get by Iona without a strong game from Hawkins, he’ll need to be a factor on offense right from the start in this one. This will give Sanogo more room to operate down low and more lanes for guards like Jackson and Tristen Newton against a disciplined defense.
The UConn bench continued to be a factor after a mid-season swoon, with Nahiem Alleyne, Donovan Clingan, and Joey Calcaterra combining for 26 points. Clingan was once again dominant on both ends, filling in more than admirably for Sanogo, while the two guards combined to go 4-6 from beyond the arc. After a concerted effort from Hurley to get a few extra minutes in the Iona game, the hope is that the bench stays hot as the team plays its second game in three days.
UConn’s depth could help them outlast Saint Mary’s too. The Gaels rank almost dead last in bench minutes per KenPom and used six players for the majority of the game against VCU. Two SMC players played the whole 40 minutes and two others played 38, while only two Huskies (Jackson and Alex Karaban) played over 30 minutes in the first round.
When Saint Mary’s has the ball
Saint Mary’s relies on an experienced starting lineup with four upperclassmen to do most of their damage offensively. The backcourt of seniors Logan Johnson and Alex Ducas powered the Gaels past the Rams Friday afternoon, with both playing all 40 minutes and combining for 29 points.
Mitchell Saxen, a 6-foot-10 big man, is another key contributor on offense and tied with Ducas for a game-high 17 points in 38 minutes of play. Saxen’s size could provide some trouble for Sanogo and will be tough to keep off the glass, especially on the offensive end.
Ducas and freshman Aidan Mahaney are the only consistent 3-point threats at Saint Mary’s with both shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. The Gaels shot just 17.6 percent from the perimeter as a team against VCU but got the job done inside of the arc, shooting over 53 percent. For a team that shoots over 36 percent from three on the season, it’s unlikely that Saint Mary’s will have a repeat performance of their first-round shooting woes.
As expected with a team that really only uses six players in its rotation, Saint Mary’s ranks fourth-to-last in tempo and second-to-last in average possession length on offense. Their goal is to slow the game down to a crawl, which allows them to play their best players for the entirety of the game. This means transition buckets will likely be hard to come by, but UConn can put the Gaels on its heels by capitalizing on turnovers, pushing the pace, and leaning into their bench to tire out Saint Mary’s, especially during crunch time.