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March Madness Analysis: How UConn Made the Final Four

No. 4 Seed Huskies Enter as the Betting Favorite

When UConn failed to reach the Big East title game after head coach Dan Hurley boldly proclaimed “We Own The Garden,” there was plenty of chatter about whether Hurley could win the big game after a series of early exits. Those naysayers are pretty quiet these days as UConn is not only in the Final Four for the sixth time, but is listed by the March Madness predictions as the favorite to win it all.

UConn is the most balanced of the four teams playing in Houston. The Huskies are third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency according to the Pomeroy college basketball ratings database.

Connecticut Huskies players celebrates after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs 82-54 in the Elite Eight round
Connecticut Huskies players celebrates after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs 82-54 in the Elite Eight round | Carmen mandato/getty images/afp

Seven different players have at least one double-digit scoring game during the tournament, with Adama Sanogo looking unstoppable at times, Jordan Hawkins making more than 50% of his 3-pointers and Andre Jackson a triple-double threat each time he steps onto the court.

When considering making March Madness picks, one concern is that when UConn has struggled this season, the Huskies have gotten a little too 3-point crazy. Miami does not possess much depth in the post so feeding the ball to Sanogo and 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan would certainly seem like the way to go.

Sanogo is averaging 20 points and 9.8 rebounds with Hawkins putting up 17.3 points per game. Hawkins has been especially productive in the second half during the tournament run. Sanogo is priced at +250 and Hawkins at +325 in the odds to be named the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament.

According to the March Madness expert picks, UConn (-125) is the favorite in the odds to win NCAA Tournament.

When looking at the March Madness odds, UConn is listed as a 5½-point favorite in the second of Saturday’s national semifinals at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Here’s a look at how the Huskies got this far.

How They Got into March Madness Bracket

UConn was ranked as high as No. 2 in the national polls this season and there was little doubt that the Huskies would be in the tournament field regardless of what transpired in the Big East tournament.

After falling to Marquette in the Big East semifinals, the Huskies were seeded fourth. A No. 3 seed was certainly in play based on the regular season that UConn had. There was a win over Alabama, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, as well as victories over Creighton and Marquette.

UConn has had no problem proving that it probably was being undervalued heading into March Madness with four double-digit victories.

Since dropping five of six games beginning with a New Year’s eve loss to Xavier, the Huskies are 13-3 with losses by three, three and two points to Xavier, Creighton and Marquette – all teams that won games in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Road to the Final Four

It took some time for UConn to pull away from a Rick Pitino-coached Iona team in the first round before the Huskies dismantled West Coast Conference powers Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. They also had a little problem with a talented Arkansas team.

The performance in the regional final against Gonzaga was absolutely spectacular with UConn leading by as many as 33 points against a team led by All-American Drew Timme.

Hawkins had 44 points in the regional semifinals and finals to be named the Most Outstanding Player in the West Region.

The Huskies trailed for all of 48 seconds against Gonzaga and never trailed against Arkansas after being tested in the first half against both Iona and Saint Mary’s. UConn’s ability to put away teams was lacking among the other teams thought to be title contenders coming into the tournament. That was evident with No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 2 seed UCLA being knocked out in the West Region.

UConn was listed by the Las Vegas odds as a favorite in each of the first four games in the NCAA Tournament and is favored once again.

Looking at the Staff

Hurley arrived in Storrs in 2018 with some work to do.

Although Kevin Ollie guided UConn to the national title in 2014, the Huskies hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2016 before Hurley got them there in 2021.

After posting a 22-39 record in his first two seasons at Rhode Island, he led the Rams to four straight winning seasons, three 20-win campaigns and a pair of second-round showings in the NCAA Tournament.

Hurley surrounded himself with a strong group of assistant coaches. Kimani Young has been with Hurley for all five seasons at UConn. Tom Moore, a former head coach at Quinnipiac, has been an assistant at UConn for 18 seasons and that included a successful run when Jim Calhoun turned the Huskies into a national contender.

Moore and second-year assistant Luke Murray previously coached with Hurley at URI.

A Look at the Roster

UConn has an interesting mix of multi-year starters, transfers and talented freshmen.

Leading scorer Sanogo is a three-year starter who is already over 1,200 career points. He is on the court for 24-27 minutes in the NCAA Tournament and is still one of the most productive players in this year’s event.

Andre Jackson also came on board in 2020. His offense can be a work in progress at times with teams often not guarding him on the perimeter. However, it is hard to overstate his importance to this team. It would be hard to find a player who brings more energy to the court on every possession. That has made him a defensive stalwart and an outstanding offensive rebounder.

The numbers that jump out during March Madness are Jackson’s 31 assists and six turnovers.

Sophomore Jordan Hawkins is 15 of 31 from 3-point range in the tournament. When he is making shots from the perimeter, this can be an almost impossible lineup to match up with.

Transfers Tristan Newton (East Carolina), Joey Calcaterra (San Diego), Naheim Alleyne (Virginia Tech) and Hassan Diarra (Texas A&M) filled some voids in the backcourt after UConn lost four of its top five scorers, including guards R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin.

Freshmen Alex Karaban (63 3-pointers) and Clingan (68 blocked shots) have made immediate impacts.

Bursting With Confidence

One issue with playing at UConn is that the bar is set so high. When the Huskies were struggling to win on the road in January against teams that made the NCAA Tournament, the fans were getting restless.

UConn never deviated from its plan and few teams have been as dominant through the first four games of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies have led by as many as 10 points in the second half for nearly 80% on the way to the Final Four.

UConn is third nationally with a 25-11-1 record against the college basketball odds. The Huskies have covered in each of the last four games and in nine of the last 10 games.

While 20 of the Huskies’ 37 games finished over the total, six of the last eight went under.

UConn will be the favorite according to the sportsbook for the fifth straight tournament game.

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