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In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a fascinating matchup between the #4 UConn Huskies and #13 Iona Gaels is set for Friday afternoon. This West Region first-round game pits a UConn team with title aspirations against an Iona team that is incredibly intriguing, as former Big East coach Rick Pitino takes on a current Big East team as a part of March Madness on TBS. In this UConn vs Iona Preview, we will break down both teams and give you our best bet for this first-round matchup from Albany, NY, where the geography of the game could come into play.
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The Iona Gaels come into this March Madness first-round game against UConn having made the tournament by winning the MAAC championship. They received a very favorable MAAC Tournament draw, facing a sub-.500 Marist team in the championship game, thanks to a series of upsets on the other half of the bracket. Now, the Iona NCAA Tournament campaign begins with plenty of intrigues, thanks to their proximity to their home in New York.
Iona is used to playing at MVP Arena, as they visit the Siena Saints there annually during MAAC play. Because of the location of this game, we could see a decent contingent of Gaels fans make the drive up I-87 to support their team. Whether that will be enough to propel Iona to a performance that would help them pull an upset of UConn remains to be seen, but it could not possibly hurt in their bid for an upset.
The most important player in this Iona March Madness game is Nelly Junior Joseph, who will face a very difficult matchup on the interior. The 6’9” junior leads Iona in rebounding at 9.4 boards per game, but he will have his hands full with UConn center Adama Sanogo. Junior Joseph needs to avoid foul trouble early in this game, to help his team maintain its rebounding ability against a much bigger team than they are used to playing.
Statistically, the Gaels allow the same amount of points per game as UConn, with both teams giving up 65.0 points per game. However, there is a difference in the quality of competition that these teams have played for most of the season. Iona is set to take a huge step up in the level of competition relative to what they faced in the MAAC, and that could derail them on the defensive end of the floor.
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The UConn Huskies come into the NCAA Tournament with hopes of reaching the Final Four after a strong season in the Big East. Before the start of this UConn March Madness campaign, the Huskies fell in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament to eventual champions Marquette, dropping a two-point game to the Golden Eagles. Now, UConn will aim to get back into the win column to start their NCAA Tournament with a victory in Albany.
While this game is geographically close to Iona and its fans, it is located just a couple of hours away from the epicenter of Connecticut as well. Albany has been used as a regional site for the NCAA Women’s Tournament in the past, with Huskies fans packing MVP Arena in those instances. Therefore, we could see a strong crowd presence for the Huskies in this game as well, which could impact this contest in an interesting way.
The most important player in this first-round game of this UConn NCAA Tournament run is Adama Sanogo. Sanogo leads the Huskies in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. As mentioned earlier, he would give UConn a huge lift if he can get Nelly Junior Joseph into foul trouble, while cleaning the glass and providing a physical presence in the process.
Of course, UConn is coming off of a lackluster March Madness a season ago, as they were upset by New Mexico State in the first round of the 2022 edition of the tournament. The Huskies can be expected to use that failure as fuel in this game, as they will know that they cannot take any opponent for granted, no matter what the seed numbers are going into the Big Dance.
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Going into the March Madness opener for UConn vs Iona, the UConn Huskies are favored by 9.5 points. The total for the game is set at 144.5, as both of these teams are getting respect in the marketplace for their potent offenses. But which of these bets are the most worth making for Friday’s matchup?
As far as UConn vs Iona predictions are concerned, the best bet for this game is to take Iona and the points. Rick Pitino’s experience as a coach for high-profile programs and in big games will help him keep his team from wilting under the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament on TBS. We should see the Gaels come out ready to play, and capable of competing on the interior with the Huskies to keep themselves within a few possessions.
Another bet worth making on this game is on the over, as both of these teams should come out firing offensively. Iona likes to play at a fast pace, which will increase the number of possessions in the contest. Combine that with the legitimate effectiveness of the offensive weapons on both sides, and this game should get into the 150s by the time the final buzzer sounds.
Location: MVP Arena, Albany, New York
Game Time & Date: Friday, Mar. 17, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. ET
TV Network: TBS
Streaming: MM Live
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