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UConn was unranked in the preseason but is now among the top-10 odds favorites to win the national championship days before March Madness tips off. The Huskies began their campaign with 14-straight victories to build early hype, but then went 2-6 between Dec. 31 and Jan. 25. To close out the regular season, UConn picked up eight Ws in nine outings, righting the once-rocky ship.
It’s been several years since the Huskies had this much hype heading into March Madness. Even when UConn won the national championship in 2014, it was a shock for the No. 7 seed to achieve so much. This should be the program’s best seed since the magical run in 2011, and this tournament will be a major test for Dan Hurley as he aims to return UConn back to the nation’s elite.
Last National Championship: 2014
Last Final Four: 2014
2023 Title Odds: +1800 (as of March 6, 2023)
Why UConn Will Make a Run
There is a lot to like about UConn this year. It’s one of the best rebounding teams in the country, especially on the offensive glass. Adama Sanogo, Andre Jackson, and Donovan Clingan are all liable to soak up a high percentage of misses. Clingan is also one of America’s best rim protectors – the 7-foot-2 freshman has swatted 14.6 percent of all opposing two-point attempts while on the floor. He makes it very difficult for other teams to get much going at the rim, and if you miss your shot, your possession is likely over with how UConn attacks the glass.
The Huskies are in the top five overall in both KenPom and T-Rank and are incredibly well-balanced. Connecticut has eight players who have chipped in at least 1.2 win shares this season, a testament to how deep its rotation goes. UConn also has two big-time scorers in Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, who both rank in the top three of the Big East in points per game.
Why UConn Will Exit Early
In a handful of the Huskies’ losses this season, turnovers have been the biggest thing to bite them. Their turnover percentage is 18.7, according to T-Rank, which is 219th in Division I. Jackson and Newton both have turnover percentages above 20. If Connecticut gets paired up with a team that plays aggressive defense and creates a lot of turnovers, it could be a troublesome matchup.
This team also struggles to play disciplined defense. The Huskies are committing an average of 18.3 personal fouls per contest, and opponents are attempting 21.5 free throws per game when they play UConn. The Huskies would prefer not to see a team that’s good at finding ways to get to the charity stripe.
What It’ll Take to Win
Clingan must remain the rim-protecting monster he’s been this season. When you have a ball-seeking swatter like him patrolling the paint, you affect everything the opposition does. He will have to be at his maximum effectiveness for UConn to win the national championship.
The Huskies will also need Sanogo and Hawkins scoring at their averages or better to add a fifth title to their trophy case. They are the most important players to this team’s offense, and if at any point both of them don’t show up much on the scorers’ sheet, UConn will be vulnerable. Sanogo and Hawkins combine for almost 40 percent of the average field goals Connecticut attempts in a game – their efficiency is required.