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March Madness: Why UConn Will Win

Huskies Eyeing Fifth National Title

This has been one impressive tournament run for UConn.

When UConn lost three straight games and four of five in January, questions were circling around about whether this team had what it takes to make noise in the March Madness bracket. That chatter has disappeared.

March Madness: Why UConn Will Win. Jordan Hawkins #24 of the UConn Huskies celebrates after scoring during the second half of an NCAA basketball game at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on February 18, 2023
Joe Buglewicz / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Since the NCAA began seeding the national title in 1979, only the 2018 Villanova, 2009 and 2016 North Carolina, 2001 Duke, 2000 Michigan State, 1981 Indiana and 1979 Michigan State teams headed into the national championship game having won each of its tournament games by at least 10 points.

UConn was ranked as high as No. 2 in the national polls and moved up one spot to No. 10 in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 poll.

UConn lost in the first round in each of the last two NCAA tournaments so there were some obvious misgivings about this team when the tournament got underway.

When looking at the March Madness picks, the 7½-point line is one of the largest in national title games in recent memory. If the line moves to 8 or 8½, which is a definite possibility, it would be the largest since the 1999 final when the Huskies stunned Duke to win the program’s first title.

Now when looking at the March Madness predictions, the Huskies are favored to win the program’s first national title since 2014.

When making March Madness expert picks, it should be noted that UConn is 26-11-1 against the spread and among Division I men’s teams, only Utah Valley State (25-9-) has a better mark.

Stars Leading Way

When it comes to winning games in March and early April, the best players have to be the best players. That has certainly been the case during UConn’s run.

The duo of Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins combined for 34 points in the 72-59 win over Miami in the national semifinals.

Sanogo hit two early 3-pointers. However, his best work is done in the paint. It might be hard to find a post player with better hands than Sanogo and when the Huskies are at their best, they are feeding the ball to their burly 6-foot-9 star early and often.

What makes this team so hard to guard is that Jordan Hawkins is one of the best 3-point shooters in the country and that opens up room for Sanogo to do his thing. Hawkins is 19 of 38 from 3-point range in the tournament. He also has made a habit of being fouled while attempting 3-pointers. That results in four-point plays or three foul shots.

According to the college basketball odds, Sanogo (+125) and Hawkins (+275) are the front-runners for the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.

Andre Jackson was saddled with foul issues in the first half against Miami. However, he still has 35 assists against 8 turnovers during the tournament. He has tremendous chemistry when it comes to working with Sanogo as his ability to deliver entry passes into the post from the wing is hard to defend. He is also a relentless defender and top-notch offensive rebounder

UConn’s shot selection has been on point during the tournament. When UConn struggled earlier in the season, rushing 3-pointers and ignoring the advantage that the Huskies had down low proved to be their undoing. That has not been the case during the tournament.

Newcomers Coming Through

The expected growing pains did not happen immediately for UConn even though the Huskies added four transfers and two key freshmen.

It has looked like this group has played together for a few years. East Carolina transfer Tristian Newton had eight assists against Miami, San Diego transfer Joey Calcaterra, who faced San Diego State back in 2019, has hit some clutch 3-pointers. Nahiem Alleyne and Hassan Diarra came in from Virginia Tech and Texas A&M. Their roles and playing time can fluctuate. However, they have combined for 99 assists and 46 steals so they can contribute on both ends of the court.

There were those who cover the UConn team who were predicting that freshman Alex Karaban could connect on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half before it actually happened and that tells you all you need to know about Karaban’s ability to deliver in the clutch.

The impact of 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan can’t be overstated. When Sanogo comes out of the game, Clingan comes in to disrupt things around the rim. He played a huge role in a series of missed layups by Miami.

Something to consider for those who bet online: The Huskies are 7-0 when Calcaterra has at least 10 points in a game.

Confidence Is Growing

This team seems to have figured things out at the perfect time. The role players know what is expected of them and the stars are more than happy to have the lofty expectations on their shoulders as the sportsbook has UConn as the team to beat in the title game.

UConn has been dominant on both ends of the court and even overcame foul trouble to one of team’s leaders in the Miami game. This has made the Huskies a tough team to deal with. The ability to build on leads has been one of the greatest strengths during the tournament.

San Diego State is hardly an offensive juggernaut so if the Aztecs go down early, will they be able to score enough to threaten the Huskies? There is a reason why UConn was ranked as high as No. 2 earlier in the season.

This is a team that can win while playing a variety of styles. If the opposing team wants to turn things into a track meet, the Huskies can oblige. If it becomes a rough and tumble defensive battle, that is just fine with UConn as well.

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