UConn looked like two different teams against Iona on Friday, morphing into a dominant group in the second half. The Huskies won with their offense, while St. Mary’s won with its defense against VCU the same day. Offense will meet defense on Sunday. UConn is a 4-point favorite, with the over/under 128 points.
Let’s make predictions for Sunday’s NCAA Tournament battle between UConn and St. Mary’s and break down why the Huskies can get past the Gaels’ defense.
St. Mary’s vs. UConn Prediction
This is a very close call. UConn is the more talented team and should come out strong defensively than Friday’s game against Iona. There’s still the possibility of a low-scoring, close game between these two teams, especially with the inconsistency of the Huskies’ shooters and their matchup with a tough St. Mary’s defense.
Still, there is too much of an offensive talent gap to avoid UConn +4. The Gaels don’t defend the three as well as they do everything else, so there’s a good chance Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins are able to get some good looks even if Adama Sanogo is limited by the defense.
On the other side, St. Mary’s is going to need a much better performance out of Aidan Mahaney just to keep up with the Huskies’ offense. The Gaels likely won’t get the same production from Mitchell Saxen and Alex Ducas as they did against VCU, and I’m not sure there will be enough to make up for it.
St. Mary’s vs. UConn Prediction: UConn -4
St. Mary’s vs. UConn Odds
UConn enters as a 4-point favorite over St. Mary’s, sitting -186 on the moneyline. The over/under is 128 points.
The Huskies have the talent advantage, but their offense has been inconsistent at times this season. It’ll be worth watching whether Randy Bennett’s team is ready for this kind of offense.
St. Mary’s vs. UConn Key Matchups
Here are some key matchups that could decide UConn vs. St. Mary’s.
Adama Sanogo vs. St. Mary’s Interior Defense
UConn beat a strong Iona perimeter defense on Friday, and the Huskies made it look easy at times. The offense was flying throughout the game, and Adama Sanogo had one of the best performances of his UConn career. It might be a tougher day for Sanogo on Sunday.
St. Mary’s holds opponents to 45.4% shooting on two-point attempts, the 21st-ranked mark in the country. The Gaels also impress on the boards. While they don’t average a ridiculous number of rebounds because of how slow their pace is, they hold opponents to just 28.5 rebounds per game – the second-best mark in the country. The chances of Sanogo dominating both offensively and on the boards like he did against Iona are slim.
More is going to fall on UConn’s shooters, who played well on Friday, but the offense runs through Sanogo and his performance here against Mitchell Saxen, Kyle Bowen, and other forwards will be critical.
Aidan Mahaney vs. UConn Perimeter Defense
St. Mary’s doesn’t win this game without getting more out of freshman Aidan Mahaney. Mahaney didn’t score against VCU, but the Gaels got enough out of their other pieces. It’s going to be all hands on deck against a UConn team that will score much more than VCU scored.
Mahaney has shined in clutch moments this season, single-handedly leading St. Mary’s back against Gonzaga earlier in the season (albeit after a very poor start). He’s averaging 14.1 points per game and shooting 40.6% from three-point range. Opponents are shooting just 30.6% from beyond the arc against this UConn defense.
I’m concerned about a freshman like Mahaney against such an experienced, strong perimeter defense, and I’m not sure the Gaels can survive more struggles – that’s one reason for my St. Mary’s vs. UConn prediction.