Whenever Connecticut is in a Tournament, people usually take notice. That’s what happens when you win the national championship as a 7-seed, which they did two years ago. Things won’t be easy this time, that’s for sure, drawing Colorado in the 8-9 matchup.
Of course, the Huskies also didn’t compete in last year’s Tourney after falling to SMU in the AAC title Game, and then they followed that up by losing in the first round of the NIT. Still, UConn seems to have some kind of magic this time of year and that was seen last week after beating Cincinnati in Four overtimes and then blowing past Temple and Memphis en route to the title. There’s no denying this team struggled throughout the year and that’s why they were a bubble team before winning the Tournament. They have the tools to pull off some upsets and won big Games throughout the year, maybe most notably a road Game at Texas.
Colorado comes into this Game out of the highly rated Pac-12. The Conference has already gotten respect this season, but to legitimize their play, teams like the Buffaloes will need to win Games such as these against AAC competition. The Buffs already played SMU of the AAC earlier in the year in Las Vegas and lost 70-66 despite the Mustangs not hitting a shot from deep. Colorado was 10-8 in Conference play, and didn’t really show all that much in non-Conference play. They lost Games against the best competition and barely beat teams such as Penn State and Nebraska-Omaha.
UConn has the tools to make a run with a presence in the paint when needed (Amida Brimah played 47 minutes in the 4OT win vs. Cincy), balanced scoring from its guards and multiple three-point shooters. Colorado is built upon size, dominating the glass, and also three-point shooting. The Buffs are a similar team to Cincinnati, but can probably shoot the ball a little better. This probably won’t be another Four-overtime Game, but expect it to come down to the final few minutes.
Josh SCott is the main player to worry about for UConn as he averages 16.1 points and 8.7 boards per Game. In the last two Games against Arizona (who has 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski), SCott had 42 points and 22 rebounds. He’ll have a similar matchup with Brimah down low in this Game and that could easily decide the outcome. The problem for the Huskies is that they don’t have the offensive big men to get SCott into foul trouble.
OUtside of SCott, Colorado has lengthy guard George King who can shoot, but also get to the free-throw line. In two Pac-12 Tourney Games, King finished with 43 points and 13 made free throws. Depth is also an advantage for the Buffs with only SCott averaging more than 30 minutes per Game and he’s only at 30.4.
The Huskies will have to hold their own on the boards and that means Brimah will be in for another big day. Daniel Hamilton leads the team with 8.9 rebounds per Game, but Colorado’s size is a bit different that what UConn has faced for the last couple months. In addition to SCott, the Buffs have Wesley Gordon who averages 7.6 boards. Nevertheless, Hamilton is a playmaker averaging 12.4 points and 4.8 assists to go with his rebounding. When needed, he can score, much like Colorado’s George King.
OUtside of Hamilton, Sterling Gibbs, Rodney Purvis and Shonn Miller are the other players to watch out for. All three of them average at least 12 points per Game and provide stout defense. Kevin Ollie’s teams always seem to pick up their defense late in the year and Colorado turns the ball over quite frequently so that could be an issue.
The Buffs are coming off a loss in which they shot 34.2% from the floor, and only stayed in the Game by making 21 free throws. This could be another similar matchup with UConn’s stout defense. The Huskies are favored by a decent amount for a 9-seed, but Colorado’s size will give them a problem much like Cincinnati’s did, so don’t expect another double-digit win from UConn after running through their last couple Games against smaller teams.
Our Pick – Colorado +3.5