Discover more from The UConn Fast Break
Gameday: UConn vs. Iona | 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS
The Huskies have many advantages, but Iona is still a dangerous first-round matchup.
UConn takes the court Friday looking to win its first NCAA tournament game ever under head coach Dan Hurley. Expectations are high this year, as multiple national analysts picked UConn in their Final Four.
But a notable challenge awaits in the first round. You can read our thoughts and takeaways on how far we think the Huskies will make it in the tournament on The UConn Blog.
After Day 1 of this year’s first round saw upsets like Furman's over Virginia and Princeton’s win over Arizona, the Huskies will have their work cut out for them to avoid a similar fate. The 13-seed Iona Gaels, led by Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino, have plenty of ways to give the Huskies trouble.
NCAA tournament round one preview
The game is at 4:30 p.m. on TBS at MVP Arena in Albany, New York. You can read a full breakdown of the matchup on The UConn Blog.
Should the Huskies win, they will play the winner of St. Mary’s and VCU, which tips off at 2:00 p.m. They would most likely be favored in a Round of 32 game.
“This month is obviously important. We work all year long in practice and in games to get to this point,” Andre Jackson said. “I think that's good enough to get us some wins in this tournament. We're one of the better teams in this tournament for sure.”
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -9.5 , over/under 141
KenPom Predicted Score: No. 4 UConn 77, No. 13 Iona 68 | 80 percent win probability
Four things that scare me about Iona
They drain the three
Iona is no joke from deep. The Gaels are 36 percent from three as a team, good for 79th in the entire country. Led by Walter Clayton, a 42.5 percent shooter from deep, Iona boasts three other rotation players that shoot over 36 percent from three, including 7-footer Osborn Shema. While the Gaels don’t live and die by the three — it makes up less than a third of their total field goals — all it takes is Clayton and the rest of the Gaels to get hot early and put the Huskies on their heels.
Pitino’s Iona team is a lot like his old Louisville teams in that they play relentless pressure defense. The Gaels rank 44th in turnover percentage and face off against a UConn team that has been turnover prone at times, especially in the backcourt with Tristen Newton and Andre Jackson.
Succeeding in turnovers and 3-pointers is a tremendous formula for an upset, and Iona is pretty solid at both of those things. If that wasn’t enough, the Gaels are one of the top shot-blocking teams in the country, led by Shema anchoring the paint. Pressure defense will make it tough for UConn to get into its half-court set, and players like Shema patrolling the paint will make it difficult for any Huskies to get easy baskets at the rim.
The Gaels’ frontcourt
Iona’s frontcourt will not be the best that UConn has faced all year, but the Gaels’ big men are matchup nightmares for the Huskies. Power forward Nelly Junior Joseph is a mountain at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds and excels at creating contact. He ranks within the top 60 of fouls drawn per 40 minutes, making him a tough draw for bigs Sanogo and Clingan. Joseph is not a 3-point threat in any way but will be able to create enough chaos down low to potentially put one of UConn’s bigs —arguably their top players — in foul trouble.
Meanwhile, Shema is not a frequent 3-point shooter but one that has to be respected, shooting 37.1 percent on over 60 attempts. If UConn elects to put Alex Karaban on Joseph and Sanogo on Shema, the 7-foot Rwanda product may play out on the perimeter to open up the paint for the Gaels’ guards.
Pitino may be a man of questionable morality, but the man knows ball and is easily still one of the best pure coaches at the Division I level right now. There’s no doubt that he has analyzed what Marquette did in the win over the Huskies in the Big East Tournament semifinals — neutralizing Jordan Hawkins, getting Jackson into foul trouble, and utilizing the pick and pop with a floor-stretching big — and tailored his game plan accordingly.
“He's a Hall of Fame coach, so just to hear him praise us like that is something special for him to realize how good of a team we really are,” Karaban said.
“So we're just going to go out there and play our style of basketball and continue to prove why we should have been a higher seed.”
Hurley may not have won a tournament game yet, but there’s no doubting he’s got a well-coached team that has made the most out of a season where expectations were not high coming in. Still, it’s hard not to think that Pitino, who has won redacted national titles and advanced deep into March before, will have an edge in the Xs and Os.
The Huskies have the edge over the Gaels in most major categories besides turnovers. Their best advantages are in offensive rebounding percentage and effective field goal percentage, and UConn is a better passing team.
The Gaels are a tough team defensively and typically record around 6 blocks and 7 steals a game, which means the Huskies will need to be smart when it comes to getting the ball down in the paint.
Webster’s giving away a trip for two to the men’s college hoops finals in Houston, TX, April 1-3. For a chance to win, just fill out your Big Goals Bracket!
No purchase necessary. Ends 3/25.