UConn finished its season on a low note after failing to score for the final 2:30 of the Big East semifinals, but the Huskies played some of their best basketball over these past few weeks. Can Iona break that momentum? The Gaels have won 14 straight, and having a two-time champion coach doesn’t hurt. UConn is an 8.5-point favorite, with the over/under at 141 points.
Let’s make predictions for Thursday’s Round of 64 matchup and break down why Iona can keep it close even if UConn advances for the first time in the Dan Hurley era.
UConn vs. Iona Prediction
UConn is probably just too talented to lose this game. It’s not the same scenario as last season with more talent surrounding Adama Sanogo and no scorer like Teddy Allen on the other side this time. Still, Iona looks like a team that can hang with the Huskies.
The Gaels have three players averaging more than 15 points per game, and they’ve won 10 of their last 11 games by double-digits. Rick Pitino’s team also has the great perimeter defense to limit an inconsistent collection of UConn shooters.
There should still be enough in the tank between Sanogo and his supporting cast to out-talent Iona, but a close game wouldn’t be a surprise given how much momentum the Gaels have entering this tournament. Iona +8.5 is the pick.
UConn vs. Iona Prediction: Iona +8.5
UConn vs. Iona Odds
UConn enters as an 8.5-point favorite over the Gaels, sitting at -450 on the moneyline. The over/under is 141 points.
Is a single-digit line an overreaction to the Pitino effect? Iona did win by double-digits in 10 of its last 11 games, so it might be more than that. It’ll still be a very tough task against a balanced Huskies team.
UConn vs. Iona Key Matchups
Here are some key matchups that could decide UConn vs. Iona.
UConn Shooters vs. Iona Perimeter Defense
Both teams defend the three very well, which is one reason why the over/under is as low as it is despite two strong offenses. Iona has had success in that area all season, holding opponents to 29.2% from beyond the arc. It’s going to be critical to sustain that performance against UConn.
The Huskies have a bevy of shooters, but they’re shockingly inconsistent. We saw that when Jordan Hawkins erupted against Providence in the Big East Tournament and shot 2-of-11 against Marquette the next night. The offense still runs through Sanogo, but when the shots aren’t falling for Hawkins, Tristen Newton, and Alex Karaban, UConn is vulnerable against teams as talented as Iona – that’s a reason for my UConn vs. Iona prediction.
Going up against MAAC co-defensive player of the year Berrick JeanLouis will be a challenge for the Huskies.
Nelly Junior Joseph vs. Adama Sanogo
Iona has its own big man to try to match Sanogo. Nelly Junior Joseph is a strong defensive presence and rivals Sanogo’s size. The big man averages 1.5 blocks per game, is strong on the boards with 9.4 rebounds per game, and can give Sanogo trouble on both ends of the floor considering he averages 15.1 points.
Like Iona, UConn can defend the three very well. It’s going to be a challenge for Walter Clayton and Daniss Jenkins to get the clean looks they’re used to. That means plenty of responsibility falls on the shoulders of Junior Joseph to get in the paint and give Iona another path to points.
Now in year three with the Gaels, Junior Joseph seemingly keeps improving and could be the key to an Iona upset on Friday.