UConn vs. Gonzaga: 2023 NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Picks & Predictions (Saturday)

Mar 24, 2023 - 4:19 PM

The NCAA tournament has done nothing but deliver with some insane results already. We saw a 16 and a 15 seed win while half of the number one and two seeds fell before the Sweet 16. It was anyone’s tournament entering Selection Sunday and that remains the case. Here I will preview UConn vs. Gonzaga with the winner going to the Final Four in Houston.

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2023 NCAA Tournament Guide (March Madness)

UConn vs. Gonzaga: 2023 NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Picks & Predictions

How We Got Here.

UConn has dominated this tournament, winning every game by double-digits thus far. Against Arkansas, it was never even a game as UConn won from the tip. But the first two games weren’t as dazzling as the box score might show. The Huskies started slow in the first two games with both matchups going into halftime as one-point affairs. Given Gonzaga’s offense, they don’t have the luxury of starting slow, as the Bulldogs can run away with it. 

Gonzaga has done what Gonzaga does and flexed their offensive muscles. Despite trailing by double digits in their most recent two games, their high pace and firepower simply were too much for TCU or UCLA to handle – despite trying to choke away the game late against the Bruins.

What I’ll Be Watching

  • The rebound battle: UConn not only ranks second in offensive rebound rate but they have shown out on the glass this tournament with a 42 percent offensive rebound rate against Arkansas and a 39 percent clip in their first-round game against Iona. Adama Sanogo, Donovan Clingan, as well as Andrew Jackson to an extent, are prolific rebounders that have faced – and defeated – much better teams on the defensive glass than Gonzaga’s 55th-ranked DR%. UConn further ranks sixth in second chance conversion percentage compared to Gonzaga’s 141st at limiting it defensively, while the Huskies stop second chance looks at the 17th best rate in the nation. Drew Timme might have his hands full against the UConn frontcourt.
  • Gonzaga’s offensive game plan: While Gonzaga does have an incredibly dynamic offensive look with the top-ranked KenPom offense, they shoot a high number of mid-range attempts as Haslametrics projects 32.5 percent of their shots, 4.1 percent above D-I average, coming from that range. This is not helpful against the seventh-best mid-range defense in UConn. The aforementioned frontcourt of the Huskies will be quite difficult for the Zags to handle, and UConn allows very few attempts from deep with 23 percent of opponents’ points coming from beyond the arc, ranking 360th (very low) in all of D-I. Gonzaga could run in transition, as they do, but UConn has the depth to keep up with the high-paced affair that UCLA or TCU didn’t appear to have. It’ll be interesting to see what Mark Few cooks up. If anything, I’m expecting them to feed Timme down low early and often, with hopes of taking advantage of UConn’s physical defense and sending Sanogo to the bench with some foul trouble. 
  • Can Gonzaga’s defense step up?: UConn will be the second-best offense Gonzaga has faced this season as the Bulldogs went 1-3 against top-15 adjusted offenses this year. The Bulldogs’ 257th-ranked perimeter defense will be susceptible to the sharpshooters on Connecticut in Alex Karaban and Joey Calcaterra, but UConn also ranks 23rd best in near-proximity shooting. Everyone will talk about Gonzaga’s high-powered offense but UConn is not far behind, ranked third in KenPom. While Gonzaga’s defense ranks 73rd in adjusted efficiency, they do perform better against Quad I teams. But UConn will come at them from all directions. 

In the end, I imagine Gonzaga’s lack of a top-tier defense will catch up to them. Looking at early lines, UConn will be a short favorite around 2.0 or 2.5 points with the over-under opening at 153.5 on DraftKings, a number I’m guessing will bump up a bit, considering it’s two top-three offenses going at it, and the under-trend in the NCAA Tournament needs to be evened out. 

This should be an awesome game, but with the quick turnaround, I don’t expect Gonzaga to be able to game plan for how dominant UConn can be every which way. As a simple trust factor, UConn far outweighs Gonzaga. First of all, did you see the UCLA game? The Bulldogs almost choked a 10-point lead in the final two minutes of the game. Gonzaga also ranks 259th in free throw percentage compared to UConn’s 38th. I expect this to be a blow-for-blow game with UConn pulling away late with the high number of good looks they will be able to get off each possession. 

Score Prediction: UConn 80, Gonzaga 74

What I Will Be Betting

As I type this, the only markets available are the main three. But here is what I will be looking to bet as more become available:

-UConn over points (77.5 on DraftKings)

-Alex Karaban over points

-Drew Timme under points

-Adama Sanogo over rebounds

-UConn spread (-2 on DraftKings)

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