The 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has a clear favorite following Saturday’s West Regional Final in Las Vegas.
Connecticut pummeled Gonzaga by 28 points to advance to the Final Four, and the college hoops oddsmakers like it, because it vaulted the Huskies into the role of favorite. FanDuel Sportsbook has Connecticut at +115 to win the tournament as we prepare for next weekend’s Final Four.
We also saw three other teams roll into the Final Four of March Madness, some of them for the first time ever. The Florida Atlantic Owls, of whom much is unknown, are +650 to win the tournament. The Beach Bums from Boca Raton have won four games to bust many brackets, each of them as underdogs.
But it’s the Huskies, who seem to be on a cycle to win a National Championship every 5-7 years, that are the bullies in this field. UConn could capture its third title this century, and its fourth since 1999.
Where should you look for your best bets for Final Four weekend? Is it the Huskies tournament to lose? Will their institutional experience make a difference? Or will another team emerge to win its first title?
Given their dominance by the final score in this tournament, it may seem that UConn has not been tested. But, that’s not true. In the opening round, the Huskies trailed Iona at halftime. But, they used their clamp-down defense and outscored their opponent by 26 in the second half. In round two, the Huskies led Saint Mary’s by one at half, only to post a 39-25 second half advantage.
It’s almost been like the Huskies are better trained for the full 40 minutes than their opponents. They have a 75-point advantage in the four games in the second half. That’s an average of 19 points in 20 minutes of basketball after the break.
UConn has become the 10th team in March Madness history to win each of its first four tournament games by 15+ points..
Some of the credit should be handed to head coach Dan Hurley, who seems to have learned something after losing in the first round of the tournament each of the last two years. For Hurley, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: his father is Bob Hurley, a Hall of Fame high school coach in New Jersey. The Hurley mantra is hard work, and when that fails, work harder. The Huskies are proving to be a vexing opponent after the break in March Madness.
How can a basketball fan not root for a guy named after Michael Jordan? That’s the case for Jordan Hawkins, shooting guard for Connecticut. Emphasis should be placed on shooting—Hawkins is shooting 13-for-24 (54%) from three-point range in the last three games. The sophomore is averaging 17.2 PPG in the tournament, and only seems to be getting better and more confident.
We like Hawkins to put up more than 20 points on Saturday, and he’s looking like the leading candidate to win Most Outstanding Player of this tournament.
Don’t snooze on Vladislav Goldin, the 7’1 Russian who takes up all that vertical space up front for FAU. In Saturday’s upset win over Kansas State, Goldin scored 14 and pulled down 13 boards in only 28 minutes. He can’t play full-game minutes, but Goldin is a pesky force inside. We like the Not-So-Mad Russian to score at least 10 and go for at least 10 rebounds in the Final Four.
The other hooper to watch is Johnell Davis, the sophomore guard for FAU, who plays above his age and experience. With backcourt-mate Alijah Martin, Davis provides steady floor leadership, and he’s a lights-out shooter, draining threes at 37.8% this season. Want to know something really scary for Conference USA and the rest of the NCAA? Davis, Martin, and Goldin have two more years of eligibility, and every player who gets important minutes will be back for the Owls next season.
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