NCAAB Betting Preview for UConn vs Villanova

NCAAB Betting Preview for UConn vs Villanova article feature image

Rich Schultz/Getty Images. Pictured: Cam Whitmore

UConn vs Villanova Odds

Saturday, March 4
7:30 p.m. ET
UConn Odds
-110o / -110u
Villanova Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

The final games of the regular season in college basketball can often take on serious implications.

Saturday's date between the Connecticut Huskies and Villanova Wildcats offers a mixed bag of postseason ripple effects.

UConn can certainly help its NCAA Tournament seeding, but looks locked into the 4 or 5 seed in the Big East Tournament (barring some unlikely losses by Creighton and Providence). In any case, the Huskies are assured the night off next Wednesday, for the Big East Tournament's first round.

Villanova, meanwhile, is locked in as the 6-seed at Madison Square Garden, but has its eyes on the Big Dance. No reputable bracketologist would have the Wildcats in the field today, but after winning six of seven late in the season, there could be a pathway to an at-large berth.

If the Wildcats can beat UConn, then win three games in the Big East Tournament (two of which would come against tournament-level opponents) and lose in the title game, you can squint and see a tournament-quality resume (especially when factoring the effects injuries had on Nova's early struggles).

Beyond all of that, Villanova and UConn have played so many Big East classics, with a real chance to add to that list this weekend, meeting as the two hottest teams in the conference.

Connecticut Huskies

It's a tale of not two, but three seasons for the Huskies this year.

UConn started 14-0 and looked destined for a return to the top tier of college hoops. The Huskies then lost six of eight games, promptly falling to the back of the conference standings. The first three of those losses came on the road to teams still ahead of UConn in the Big East standings with the NCAA Tournament in their future (Xavier, Providence and Marquette). Two other losses in than span, a home loss (by double-figures) to St. John's and a failed comeback (from a 17-point deficit) at Seton Hall, are still head-scratching.

Since January 31, however, the Huskies have rebounded, winning seven of eight and playing like the fourth-best team in the nation, per Bart Torvik's T-Rank metric.

What can possibly explain that swoon in January?

Some of it was just bad scheduling luck, with most of the losses not looking so bad anymore. Some of it was matchup based. The bad losses in that stretch came against the pressure defenses of Seton Hall and St. John's, which forced a combined 39 UConn turnovers in those games.

The last possible explanation comes on the defensive end, where UConn carries a very specific Achilles heel into the postseason: the Huskies foul too often.

Connecticut is last in the Big East in free throw rate allowed and only four teams in the country allow opponents to score a higher percentage of their points at the foul line. In a one game sample, that can doom this otherwise stingy Husky defense. Against St. John's, at home, UConn committed 30 fouls and sent the Johnnies to the line 37 times.

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Villanova Wildcats

As part of my tracking of the Big East this season, I tended to rant about Villanova, particularly first year head coach Kyle Neptune's lineup decisions.

If Villanova was going to bounce back from a putrid start and play like an NCAA Tournament team, three things had to happen.

First, All-Big East guard Justin Moore needed to return from his torn Achilles and either look like he had in the past or at least bring some positive impact to the offensive end of the floor. In his last five games, Moore is posting 18 points and 3 assists per night, looking every bit like the star he was in previous seasons.

Second, future lottery pick Cam Whitmore needed to look, frankly, a little bit more like a future lottery pick. Around the turn to 2023, he started getting more aggressive and more efficient. Whitmore scored 11.3 points per game on 9.5 field goal attempts and 27 percent outside shooting in his first eight games. In the last 15 games, he's up to 13.3 points on 10 field goal attempts and 39 percent outside shooting.

After failing to touch the free throw line in half the games he played in December, Whitmore is averaging four free throw attempts per game in his last eight games, taking at least two freebies in all eight.

Lastly, Villanova needed to figure out its backcourt. A lot of the issues there were created by Moore's injury and solved by his return, but there were plenty of people (myself enthusiastically included) questioning Neptune's continued usage of Chris Arcidiacono. This season, Arcidiacono is the only major conference player to play 700+ minutes and score fewer than 100 points (and no player with 700+ minutes in Division I this year has scored fewer points than Arcidiacono's 93 points).

Before Moore's return, Arcidiacono averaged 30 minutes per game and Villanova was 10-10 on the season. Since Moore re-entered the lineup 10 games ago, Arcidiacono is down to 12 minutes per game and the Wildcats have won six of their last seven.

When Villanova plays its best players, the Wildcats are an NCAA Tournament caliber team. Per Evan-Miya, the five-man unit of Moore, Whitmore, Eric Dixon, Caleb Daniels and Mark Armstrong has a (small-sample size) net rating of +59.0, among the best in the Big East.

UConn vs Villanova Betting Pick

The first time these teams played, Moore did not play and Whitmore came off the bench. Villanova's lineup featured 33 minutes from Arcidiacono and 28 minutes from the similarly maligned guard Jordan Longino.

Despite that, the Wildcats led this game early in the second half, even while shooting 5-of-22 from outside the arc and turning the ball over a season-high 18 times. Villanova, which shoots the best free throw percentage in the nation, took advantage of UConn's physicality and converted 17 of 18 from the charity stripe.

The cold outside shooting and turnover bug are far less likely to re-occur than Villanova's success at the foul line (especially with the potential for some home cooking at a packed Wells Fargo Center).

Villanova has more to play for here, with any loss ending its chances for an at-large bid.

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