March Madness 2023 picks: UConn vs. Iona, Saint Mary’s vs. VCU predictions, odds

2 weeks ago 40

The first Friday with opening-round games is my favorite day of the NCAA Tournament.

Ironically, I typically have more wagers on Friday than Thursday for some reason.

This year is no different. 

Everyone loves backing the trendy underdog.

However, the lines have moved so much toward underdogs over the last decade, there is more value in betting the favorites sometimes.

There are two of those scenarios on Friday. 

Connecticut (-9.5) over Iona

UConn opened -11 but was quickly bet down.

I grabbed the Huskies when they got to -9 and think they are still good at this number.

I made the spread -11.5, so we are getting some value at anything 10 or lower. 

There are a few reasons I like UConn.

One is Rick Pitino. While the public is betting Pitino because he’s a good coach, I wonder how focused he is right now.

There are reports that Pitino to St. John’s is a done deal. 

Have you ever accepted a new job and given your current employer a two-week notice?

I have, and I can promise 100 percent of my focus wasn’t on my current job.

It’s human nature for Pitino’s mind to be elsewhere if he already knows he’s leaving. 

Rick PitinoRick PitinoGetty Images

On the court, this is a bad matchup for Iona, especially on the boards.

The Huskies are the top rated offensive rebounding team in college basketball, while Iona ranks 272nd in defensive rebounding percentage.

And that’s with the Gaels ranking 254th in strength of schedule.

Iona will have no answers for UConn’s big front line of 6-foot-9 Adama Sanogo, 6-8 Alex Karaban and 7-2 Donovan Clingan. 

Lastly, UConn got upset last year by New Mexico State in Round 1.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Huskies can’t be beaten again.

However, I don’t think the players will be looking past a first-round opponent after being embarrassed last season. 

There are underdogs to back with much better first-round matchups than Iona.

I’ll lay the points with the Huskies. 

Betting on College Basketball?

Saint Mary’s (-4.5) over VCU

This is an interesting game because everyone in the world is backing VCU here.

At the time of this writing, 71 percent of the bets and 70 percent of the money are on the ’dog in this matchup, according to the Action Network app. 

I’m a little surprised that so many people are taking VCU.

If you just go by metrics, KenPom has Saint Mary’s rated 11 and VCU 58.

Yet, the spread is 4.5 and most of the money is on the Rams. Something doesn’t add up. 

VCU comes in hot, winners of nine straight.

It also plays an aggressive, pressing defense that can give its opponents fits.

However, if Saint Mary’s can limit turnovers and make VCU play a half-court game, it will have the edge. 

Head coach Randy Bennett of the Saint Mary's GaelsHead coach Randy Bennett of the Saint Mary’s GaelsGetty Images

Saint Mary’s did struggle against the press against BYU in a game where it almost blew a 26-point lead.

I do believe it’s different in college basketball when kids have five days to prepare for a pressure defense.

And on paper, the Gaels aren’t sloppy with the basketball, ranking sixth in steal percentage. 

Saint Mary’s has a big advantage if it can avoid turnovers and slow this game down, especially when it comes to rebounding and limiting second-chance opportunities. 

The Gaels rank second in defensive rebounding percentage and 13th in limiting their opponent’s second-chance scoring opportunities, according to Haslametrics.

Meanwhile, VCU can be pushed around on the boards, ranking 167th in offensive rebounding and 241st in defensive rebounding percentage.

This looks like a case of recency bias.

VCU won its conference tournament and Saint Mary’s got trounced by Gonzaga.

Overall though, the metrics say the Gaels are the better team and 4.5 points is too low. 

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