UConn retains Big East wanting sturdy in March Madness 2023

One day over a couple of grownup drinks or a beneficiant dosage of reality serum, members of the NCAA males’s event choice committee may have the ability to tell us if that they had a little bit of a collective, devious smile upon bracketing No. 13 Iona only a few hours from campus in Albany towards a fourth-seeded UConn eyeing one other Final Four run.

The contest represented one of many must-see video games of the primary weekend of the Big Dance, pitting two analytics darlings towards one another whereas layering on high of it the juicy storyline of Dan Hurley going through off towards top-of-the-line presently of the 12 months in Rick Pitino. 

[Sources: St. John’s intends to hire Rick Pitino as coach]

Whatever the reasoning behind any such scheming for the matchup, the true factor lived as much as the excessive billing on Friday night because the Huskies notched an entertaining 87-63 victory over the Gaels.

Even the deceiving remaining margin wasn’t fairly reflective of what transpired over the course of 40 minutes, an up-and-down-the-court masterpiece that was among the many finest video games of the primary spherical — particularly within the first half. UConn, whose depth has been a trademark of this system this season and a motive the Huskies sit fourth within the newest KenPom rankings, received contributions all through the bench to permit Hurley’s facet to finally draw back late.

“We played well in the first half but they made a lot of shots,” Hurley informed the published after the sport. “If you want to win this time of year, your big guns have to show up and play at a high level.” 

That they did as this system gained its first NCAA Tournament sport seven years to the day of its final again in 2016. 

Freshman Donovan Clingan was very good early on each ends of the court docket because the 7-foot-2 heart blew previous his season averages effectively earlier than the halfway mark and completed with 12 factors and a rebound shy of a double-double. Turnovers and a handful of point-blank misses stored Iona up by one at halftime because it pushed the tempo to attempt to negate the dimensions benefit the Huskies had on nearly each Clingan contact within the publish. 

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That was all merely the opening act for teammate Adama Sanogo nonetheless, who emerged from the locker room to utterly take over the competition and switch a nail-biter right into a routine rout for the Huskies. The First Team All-Big East performer was borderline unstoppable on his option to a game-high 28 factors and 13 rebounds – recording a double-double within the second half alone on 10-of-12 taking pictures earlier than being subbed out to raucous applause in upstate New York with over two minutes remaining. 

The junior ahead by the use of Mali made all of it look easy, utilizing nifty footwork across the rim for simple layups together with raining down a handful of highly effective dunks over the smaller Gaels. 

Andre Jackson Jr. fed the low publish a lot on his option to seven assists and 10 factors, marking a top quality displaying in his return to the Albany space that he grew up in. Backcourt mate Jordan Hawkins managed to hit double-figures with 13 second-half factors, a mirrored image of simply how issues went down the stretch for his crew because the guard overcame a 0-of-6 taking pictures hunch to start the sport.

Pitino, who rotated way over he would have preferred to with an overmatched squad, appeared to initially be in prime place to tug off a shocker within the West Regional matchup however didn’t make a lot of a dent on the defensive finish as time ticked down. Things notably appeared to unravel for the MAAC event champs following a 1-of-6 begin to the second half that they by no means may get well from to make it fascinating once more.

Walter Clayton Jr. was one of many few exterior threats from the sphere for Iona and completed with a team-high 15. He additionally went an ideal 4-of-4 from the charity stripe to finish the season with simply 5 missed free throws whole. 

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The loss not solely ends Iona’s season however is sure to unleash much more hypothesis as to the way forward for their 70-year-old coach. Pitino is predicted to maneuver simply down the highway from his present gig – sources informed FOX Sports’ John Fanta Friday afternoon that St. John’s intends to rent Pitino.

If Pitino in the end finally ends up again within the all-too-familiar confines of the Big East, the convention that lives and breathes hoops can cling its hat on the Huskies’ efficiency solidifying a top quality effort within the first spherical of the NCAA Tournament it doesn’t matter what occurs shifting ahead. 

The league moved to 4-0 to kick off the primary weekend of motion with UConn’s victory earlier than Providence fell to higher-seeded Kentucky later within the night. 

Big East champion Marquette used an enormous second-half run fueled by Kam Jones to push Vermont apart 78-61 and finish its personal event drought with the Golden Eagles’ first victory in March Madness since 2013.

“So one of the best things I thought our guys did throughout the day was not be offended or bothered that Vermont was trying to win. That really helped us. And we just kept playing. And we focused on getting the next stop, getting the next score,” Marquette head coach Shaka Smart stated. “What allowed us to break the game open, obviously, was when you put the ball in Kam Jones’ hands, he’s a uniquely gifted scorer. He’s got a couple more steps to take as a player, and with his competitive maturity, to be able to do that all the time.”

Marquette strikes on for an enchanting matchup towards Michigan State within the second spherical whereas Xavier, which the Eagles beat in Madison Square Garden final week, gutted out a 72-67 victory over upset-minded Kennesaw State. Creighton, in the meantime, beat NC State, 72-63.

“Tonight’s game was very similar to our DePaul opening-round Big East Tournament game where we got down big and then really maybe the last 12 minutes of the game, you know, we fought hard to win,” Musketeers coach Sean Miller stated. “So we’re fortunate. This game could have gone either way. I think everybody up here on the podium knows that we have to be better on Sunday than we were today, but really grateful to still be in the Tournament.

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Miller advances to take on his alma mater Pitt in a game that won’t lack for storylines with a Sweet 16 berth on the line in two days. The Panthers were sent to the First Four but have won two in a row to advance, including a thumping of Iowa State earlier on Friday that saw the Cyclones held to just 23% shooting.

“Until you really undergo the event, you do not actually perceive how fragile it’s between advancing and going house tonight,” Miller said. “We’ve skilled that, and we have checked out it within the eye, and my hope is that we will reply and be higher.”

The thin line between winning and losing is something that a team like UConn has experienced in past iterations of the tournament and seemed to be flirting with early on against Iona. But thanks to a well-timed halftime break and a handful of words from Hurley, the Huskies are moving on in impressive fashion to solidify quite a start to the tourney for themselves and their fellow Big East rivals.

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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