#3 seed CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (28-9)
vs. #2 seed SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS (34-2)
NCAA Tournament – Regional Semifinals (Sweet 16)
Tip-off: Thursday, 7:15 p.m. EDT – Anaheim, CA
Line: Pick, Total: 128.5
When Connecticut and San Diego State step onto the floor in Anaheim, CA Thursday night, it will be a matchup of two teams whose college basketball legacies are far more contrasting than their styles of play. Connecticut won its first NCAA Tournament game 55 years ago. San Diego State won its first game last Thursday. The Huskies enter the game 48-28 all-time in tournament play, while the Aztecs are 2-6. You get the point. Yet, in the words of Mark McGwire, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” This matchup is about the present, and features two of the most athletic and relentless teams left in the tournament. One squad (Connecticut) is led by a star player who has had about a year’s worth of national television exposure in the last two weeks, while the other team will be lead into battle by the most recognizable member of the team, head coach Steve Fisher. Nonetheless, few squads left in the Big Dance symbolize the true meaning of team as much as Connecticut and San Diego State do. Odds.
Connecticut advanced to the Sweet 16 the same way all of the Big East teams left standing have advanced to the Sweet 16, by beating another Big East team. The Huskies got by Cincinnati last Saturday night in Washington, D.C., 69-58, thanks to another super-human effort from Kemba Walker, who scored 33 points, with six rebounds, five assists, and was a perfect 14-for-14 from the FT line. Jeremy Lamb was far from silent, adding 14 points on a night in which he only missed two shots. Meanwhile, the team’s secret weapon, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, tallied 10 points off the bench. Alex Oriakhi hauled in 11 rebounds, helping the Huskies maintain two statistical trends that have to be pleasing to Jim Calhoun. Connecticut has outrebounded its first two opponents by double digits in both games, 49-23 over Bucknell, and 35-23 over Cincinnati. Connecticut also protected the ball, keeping its turnover totals in the single digits for both games. Walker averaged 25.5 PPG in the two wins, and seemed to have bounced back nicely from his five games in five days Big East championship stretch, as he played a total of 73 out of a possible 80 minutes in the two games in DC. Now he must prepare for a major challenge defensively from a long and physical San Diego State squad that will be keying on him from the opening tip.
While the Aztecs are less experienced in tournament play, they grew up quickly in advancing to the Sweet 16. SDSU needed double overtime to get by Temple last Saturday afternoon, 71-64. The Aztecs displayed their poise in a game where they trailed by three in the first overtime, while their leading scorer, Kawhi Leonard (15.6 PPG, 10.6 RPG) struggled with his shots for most of the night, finishing 5-for-14 from the floor. Senior Billy White picked up some of the slack, posting a double-double (16 points and 13 boards) to lead the charge. White nailed a jumper in the second OT that put his team up for good, and the Aztecs clamped down on the Owls defensively, holding them to just three points on 1-for-8 shooting in the second overtime period. Malcolm Thomas had four blocked shots on the day, the biggest one coming against Lavoy Allen with the team holding onto a three-point lead. SDSU scored just 18 points in the second half, as it was forced to play its first double-overtime game in seven years. “We were tired, but we knew that we had to win this game,” Aztecs point guard D.J. Gay said after playing all 50 minutes. “We just wanted it a little bit more. We just sucked it up.” Exactly how well-rested and prepared the Aztecs are for the task of stopping college basketball’s version of the Energizer bunny, Kemba Walker, will go a long ways toward determining who advances to Saturday’s regional final. Scores.
The Huskies went 3-0 in the Maui Invitational Tournament, 5-0 in the Big East Tournament, and are 2-0 so far in the NCAA Tournament. Add to that the fact that they have one of the biggest non-conference road wins of the college basketball season with its 82-81 overtime victory over Texas, and Connecticut is well positioned for the tournament atmosphere they will face in Anaheim, even with the game being about 90 miles from San Diego State’s campus. The Huskies are 20-11 ATS (65%) overall, including 16-6 ATS (73%) after an SU win. SDSU is 22-12 ATS (65%) overall, but only 4-4 ATS on a neutral court. For these reasons we like Connecticut to beat the Aztecs, and find the below favorable FoxSheets trends supporting this outcome.
CONNECTICUT is 10-0 ATS (+10.0 Units) when playing on a neutral court this season. The average score was CONNECTICUT 78.4, OPPONENT 66.7 – (Rating = 6*). Las Vegas odds.
CONNECTICUT is 10-2 ATS (83.3%, +7.8 Units) in road games versus very good teams – outscoring their opponents by 8+ points/game this season. The average score was CONNECTICUT 71.7, OPPONENT 69.4 – (Rating = 2*).