NCAA Tourney Picks: Maryland vs. Connecticut

by | Mar 20, 2021 | cbb

Maryland Terrapins (16-13 SU, 12-16 ATS) vs. Connecticut Huskies (15-7 SU, 16-5-1 ATS)

When: Saturday, March 20, 7:10 p.m.

Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.

TV: CBS

Point Spread: MD +3/CONN -3 (Bovada - AWESOME live betting platform + 50% Bonus!)

Total: 130

Last Time Out:

Maryland lost 79-66 to Michigan; Connecticut lost 59-56 to Creighton.

About the Matchup:

It wasn’t long ago that these two teams were considered to be the most dangerous middle seeds in the tournament, as Maryland was heating up against the Big Ten and Connecticut was making a run in the Big East. But Maryland faded down the stretch against everyone not named Michigan State, giving away first-half leads to both Michigan and Penn State, and Connecticut lost to Creighton in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, taking the bloom off the rose for both teams.

These teams have high floors and high ceilings, making this game one of the hardest ones in the first round to bet. Which one can shake off a disappointing loss in their conference tournament and come up with a win in this first-round matchup?

Scouting the Terrapins:

So which team is Maryland at this point of the season? Are the Terrapins the squad that blitzed Michigan State twice, forcing the Spartans into the First Four and ultimately leading to the end of Tom Izzo’s season? Or are they the team that couldn’t hold a double-digit lead on Penn State in the second half in their final home game of the season, costing them their chance to be a single-digit seed?

It’s a tough question to answer because Maryland did win five straight games before the calendar turned to March. Then again, the Terrapins’ wins weren’t exactly against the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. They managed to beat Minnesota, win two against Nebraska and hold off Rutgers, the only team they beat in that stretch that made the field of 64 (as Michigan State lost in the First Four).

The biggest issue for the Terrapins is that they can’t score. Maryland has played 18 games against Division I opponents in 2021, and the Terrapins have scored 70 points three times: against Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan State. Even when Maryland has managed to win, it’s been because they’ve put forth a great defensive effort, and even that might not be enough. In a February game against Penn State, the Terrapins managed to hold the Nittany Lions to 31 percent shooting — and they still lost the game because they only managed to score 50 points for the entire game.

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Scouting the Huskies:

The shooting has got to be better from James Bouknight. The Connecticut sophomore is what makes the Huskies a special team, and when he isn’t hitting, the Huskies can be easily beaten. That’s exactly what happened to Connecticut in the Big East tournament, as the Huskies’ offense short-circuited, and they ended up with a loss to Creighton.

One of the keys to the Huskies blasting both Marquette and Georgetown near the end of the season was the fact that Bouknight started hitting just about everything and gave R.J. Cole the help he needed to hit shots. Bouknight shot 60 percent or better in both contests, which is exactly what he didn’t do in the Big East tournament. At Madison Square Garden, the Huskies never got started against Creighton, mostly because Bouknight only shot 28.6 percent for the contest. Throw in the fact that the Bluejays pounded Connecticut on the boards in that game, and it’s easy to see why that game went the way it did. At a minimum, Connecticut has to rebound the ball better than it did against Creighton to have a shot.

X-Factor:

Second chances. Connecticut is a monster on the offensive glass, while Maryland barely does anything on that end of the floor. The Huskies grabbed the offensive rebound on 37 percent of their shots, compared to just 21 percent for Maryland. Given that these aren’t fast-paced teams, there aren’t likely to be a ton of possessions for either side unless a team creates extra possessions by grabbing offensive rebounds when they happen to miss.

Maryland doesn’t have to give itself a bunch of second chances, but the Terrapins absolutely cannot afford to let the Huskies pound away at them on the glass. If Maryland can fight Connecticut to a draw on the glass, the Huskies will have to work for their baskets, which gives the Terrapins a real chance to stay in this game. If Connecticut is able to extend its possessions for long stretches, the Huskies will have a significant edge.

Maryland will Cover If:

The Terrapins can limit the Huskies to one shot per trip on the majority of their possessions. Maryland doesn’t have to win the rebounding battle, nor do the Terrapins have to dominate on the offensive glass. All they have to do is step up on the defensive glass and keep Connecticut from doing whatever it wants on the glass. If Isaiah Whaley is able to do whatever he wants inside, Maryland is toast.

Connecticut will Cover If:

The Huskies can keep Eric Ayala from taking over the game. Ayala is the one dependable scorer that Maryland has, and if he’s able to get himself going early, the rest of the Terrapins will likely be confident enough to get into the act as well. If the Huskies can clamp down, they’ll be in control.

Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread

Connecticut was a cover machine down the stretch, going 7-1-1 ATS and 6-0 ATS as a favorite during that stretch. On the other hand, Maryland faded badly down the stretch unless its opponent happened to be wearing green, and the Terrapins went 1-4 ATS in its past five games as an underdog.

Betting against Maryland in the first round has usually been a terrible strategy, as the Terrapins are 14-1 SU in round 1 since 1997. But Maryland was also the higher seed in 14 of those matchups, and the Terrapins haven’t won a game as the lower-seeded team since 2003. I don’t think that changes here. Give me the Huskies. Did you know that you could be laying only -105 odds instead of the -110 your bookie is socking you? Start saving BIG bucks by making the switch to reduced juice sports betting TODAY at BetAnySports!