Fourth-seeded UConn and No. 3 Gonzaga reached the West Region final in this year’s NCAA Tournament in a very different fashion, and we think that matters for their Elite Eight matchup Saturday night from Las Vegas.
Which side of the 2-point spread at the top-rated online books is the smart lean? We also have a total play.
NCAAB Pick: UConn -2 (-108) at BetRivers
No. 4 UConn Huskies vs. No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Saturday, March 25, 2023 – 08:49 PM EDT at T-Mobile Arena
There are two Elite Eight games in the 2023 NCAA Tournament on Saturday, and while the first matchup between No. 9 Florida Atlantic and No. 3 Kansas State features a pair of nice stories, neither of those teams is winning the national title.
However, the winner of the West Region final between No. 4 UConn of the Big East and No. 3 Gonzaga of the West Coast Conference absolutely could. TBS has the telecast.
Saturday will be the sixth meeting between the schools with UConn leading 3-2. They last met in November 2015 and the Zags won by three in the Bahamas. The lone NCAA Tournament meeting was in the 1999 Elite Eight with No. 1 UConn beating No. 10 Gonzaga (which hadn’t become a national darling/powerhouse yet) by five.
The Huskies would go on to beat Duke in the NCAA title game in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Huskies Haven’t Been Tested Much
Does it matter if a team was pushed for a full 40 minutes or cruised in a game when it comes to its next outing? It obviously depends, but with the short turnaround, UConn seems to have an advantage in this matchup because the Huskies really were never tested in an 88-65 blowout of No. 8 Arkansas on Thursday.
Coach Dan Hurley club struggled some in the first half in Round 1 vs. Iona and Round 2 vs. Saint Mary’s before pulling away and winning by double digits, but Thursday’s game was never in doubt. The Huskies have outscored their three March Madness opponents by 62 points.
It’s probably the best opening stretch for a team since the 2017-18 Villanova squad, also from the Big East, beat its first three NCAA Tournament opponents by 61 points combined. Those Wildcats won it all.
The only other time Connecticut won each of its first three NCAA Tournament games by at least 15 points was in 2004 when went on to win the title. Including the three double-digit tournament wins, the Huskies’ scoring margin (13.8 points per game) now ranks fourth in Division I.
UConn shot 57.4% compared to 31.7% for Arkansas, outrebounded the Razorbacks 43-31 and outscored them 42-24 in the paint. Jordan Hawkins led the Huskies with 24 points and fellow first-team Big East pick Adama Sanogo had 18 points and eight rebounds. Hawkins played 28 minutes and Sanogo only 24, so that could be very important Saturday.
“They’ve got a real complete team, probably the most complete team in the country,” Arkansas guard Ricky Council IV said. “I think they can definitely win it all.”
It will be the 12th Elite Eight appearance for UConn, which is looking for its first trip to the Final Four since winning its last title in 2014. To reach this year’s championship game in Houston, the Huskies are +280 and +450 to win it. The West champion faces the Midwest champion (No. 1 seed Houston favored there) in the Final Four.
- Huskies are 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games overall.
- Huskies are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games vs. a team with a winning straight-up record.
- Huskies are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games following a ATS win.
Another Bruins-Zags Classic
UCLA and Gonzaga need to play in the NCAA Tournament every year. Obviously, that’s not possible to schedule because they’ll never meet in the early rounds, but they play classics every time they do face off in the Dance.
The Zags looked dead in the water Thursday in trailing the Bruins by 13 at the half but won 79-76 on a past-NBA-three-point-line stunner from Julian Strawther with seven seconds left. It was somewhat reminiscent of Jalen Suggs’ halfcourt overtime buzzer-beater to beat UCLA in the Final Four two years ago.
Strawther’s three made it 78-76, and UCLA obviously still had a chance but the Zags’ Malachi Smith came up with a steal and Strawther added one free throw for the final score.
Strawther finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while All-American Drew Timme had one of the great individual performances in NCAA Tournament history with 36 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. It was the 10th time Timme has scored at least 20 points in an NCAA tournament game, the first player ever with double-digit 20-point games in the Dance.
That guy has been around forever. Great college player but not considered much of an NBA prospect because Timme doesn’t shoot three-pointers. Gonzaga is an absurd 121-12 in games that Timme has played in his career.
Both Timme and Strawther played 38 minutes, so that should concern Gonzaga fans for Saturday as Coach Mark Few does not have a deep team, generally only using Smith and Hunter Sallis off the bench. Also consider that Gonzaga did catch two big breaks against UCLA as the Bruins were without their two best defenders in Jaylen Clark and Adem Bona, both hurt.
Gonzaga is in the Elite Eight for the sixth time and first since that unbeaten club in 2021 got to the title game but lost to Baylor. To reach this year’s final, the Zags are +300 and to win it all +550 on the NCAAB futures.
One clear common opponent for UConn and Gonzaga is Saint Mary’s. The Zags were 2-1 against the Gaels, including a rout of them in the WCC title game. The Huskies beat them by 15 in Round 2.
My only concern with UConn is that it hasn’t played a close game in this tournament yet, but the Huskies players should have much fresher legs. They are taking an 81% early spread lean at OddsTrader NCAAB odds board.
- Bulldogs are 3-11-1 ATS in their last 15 games following a ATS win.
- Bulldogs are 1-7 ATS in their last 8 NCAA Tournament games.
- Over is 10-3 in Bulldogs last 13 overall.
NCAAB Pick: Over 153 points at BetRivers