NCAA Tournament East Region Picks: (7) Connecticut Huskies vs. (10) St. Joseph’s Hawks

Shabazz-Napier-connecticut-12-3Connecticut vs St. Joseph’s
Time: 6:55 PM ET, Mar 20, 2014
Spread: CON -4.5

Betting odds courtesy of Bovada

Connecticut put together a pretty impressive season, and was one of only two teams to defeat the No. 1 overall ranked Florida Gators, pulling a 65-64 upset on Dec 2, while Florida was ranked 15th in the nation. The Huskies closed the season by winning four of its last six games, and three of those wins came against AP ranked teams (Cincinnati, twice; and Memphis). Still, the Huskies face a tall task in St. Joseph’s, and college basketball oddsmakers set the line 4.5 points in favor of UConn in second round action Thursday night.

UConn’s big draw is 6’1″ senior guard Shabazz Napier. Napier led the team in scoring, rebound and assists despite his small size (17.4 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists). He’s a good shooter with range, and he hoists threes in volume. Napier connected on 39 percent from behind the arc while attempting just over five per game this season. Disconcerting, however, is the fact Napier closed the season by hitting just 9-of-25 over the Huskies’ final two games, including an 0-of-4 three-point shooting night against Cincinnati.

Still, UConn was able to defeat the Bearcats, and hung tough with Louisville before falling 71-61 in the AAC championship game. When at its best, UConn can be any team in the nation, and that has to be reason enough to favor the team in any moneyline bets in this contest.

DeAndre Daniels gives the Huskies a presence on the interior. The 6’9″ junior forward turned in another strong campaign, averaging 12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. He played particularly well against Louisville, shooting 7-of-13 from the floor en route to 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and a block.

St. Joseph’s closed the season strong by winning its final three games and the A-10 Conference championship. While the A-10 is hardly a powerhouse conference, St. Joe’s did defeat a tough VCU team to win the title, 65-61. It marked St. Joe’s first A-10 title since 1997, and that has many thinking this could be the year the team makes a run in the NCAA tournament. Four Hawks scored in double figures, though St. Joe’s doesn’t really give its bench much burn. Langston Galloway led all scorers with 19 points, and DeAndre Bembry contributed 13 points and eight assists.

The Hawks lack of depth will likely spell its demise, though. Every starter plays 32 minutes per game or more, and that lack of depth hurts with so many games in such a short time (They don’t call it “madness” for nothing, right?). Expect St. Joe’s to come strong for a half of basketball, but over the duration of the second half UConn should be able to wear St. Joe’s starters out.

STJ Trends: 2-7 ATS in last 9 Thursday games; UNDER 17-5 in last 22 Thursday games; 6-2 ATS in last 8 games overall.

CON Trends: UNDER 8-1 in last 9 non-conference games; UNDER 13-3 in last 16 overall.

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