March S[imulation]adness: Breaking down the first two rounds in Storrs

UConn Huskies players, from left, Megan Walker (3), Crystal Dangerfield (5) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa on Dec. 22, 2019 after winning their game against Oklahoma 97-53. (Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
UConn Huskies players, from left, Megan Walker (3), Crystal Dangerfield (5) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa on Dec. 22, 2019 after winning their game against Oklahoma 97-53. (Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) /

Previewing UConn’s first and second-round matchups

[Please enjoy our March S[imulation]adness content. For more about this project, check out our explainer post.]

While many things have changed since the 2013-2014 season, but UConn’s dominance in the AAC remained the same. The Huskies went 139-0 against AAC opponents and secured their seventh AAC Tournament Championship on March 9.

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(2) UConn vs. (15) Mount Saint Mary’s 

UConn hasn’t lost in the first rounds since 1993, while Mount St. Mary’s is playing in the tournament for the first time since 1995.

Megan Walker (19.7), Crystal Dangerfield (14.9), Christyn Williams (14.6) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (10.9) all average double-digit scoring and form the core of this UConn team. In the first two rounds, one or two of these players can afford to have an off night, however, this will not remain true later on in the tournament.

Christy Thomaskutty, former Emory head coach and current women’s basketball analyst, weighed in on what the first two rounds would look like for UConn, who hasn’t lost before the Final Four since 2007.

Thomaskutty believes that Mount St. Mary’s will come into Storrs and hit a few threes early in the game.

“They enter this match-up ranked 17th in the nation in 3s with 8.5/game,” Thomascutty told High Post Hoops. “The good news for Mountaineer fans is that 38% of their total points come from the three point line (they avg 25 attempts/game). The bad news, missed three’s will lead to run outs for UConn in transition..and when UConn is able to score in transition they are at their best.”

She also believes that when UConn gets easy baskets in transition, the Huskies can get back and set their half court defense, something that allows Nelson-Ododato get to the paint and be the rim protector. Nelson-Ododa averages 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game.

“UConn has won 213 straight games vs unranked teams, I think this match-up will lead to #214,” Thomaskutty said.

Cindy Brunson, a women’s basketball reporter and analyst, said, “The Mount is coming and a part of that learning process is having an iron sharpens iron test against the Huskies. Megan Walker is on a mission to prove she’s ready for the WNBA. Walker’s scoring and UConn’s ability to move the basketball to take the great shot instead of just the good one will be too much for the Mountaineers.”

Assuming UConn lives up to Thomaskutty and Brunson’s predictions, UConn is set to take on the winner of 7-seed TCU and 10-seed CMU.

(7) TCU vs (10) CMU

Thomaskutty was torn when breaking down this game. Breaking down CMU’s motion offense she said, “They like to play fast but are quite comfortable playing patient basketball in the half court trying to break you down off of dribble penetration. They have guards who can thread the needle on the pick-roll and they can stretch you out because they average 9.8 made 3s/game (for 6th in the nation) while shooting 35.6% from 3 (32nd in the country).”

She was particularly fond of Micaela Kelly, describing her as a “dynamic guard that not enough folks are talking about on the national stage.”

Kelly is averaging 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game and recorded a triple-double, (21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists) on March 11 against Eastern Michigan.

Thomaskutty believes that TCU is at their best when they are able to get out in transition and score.

“They have great length and they use that on the defensive end by turning you over and converting that into easy scoring opportunities,” she said.

She also noted the Horned Frogs averaged 18 points per game off of opponents’ turnovers.

Thomaskutty also believes that Lauren Heard will be able to make plays late.

Heard is averaging 18.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.1 steals in 30.8 minutes per game.

Final Prediction: Based on the number of points TCU scores off of their opponents’ turnovers and because she believes defense wins in close games, Thomaskutty believes that the Horned Frogs will best the Chippewas, as CMU turns the ball over an average of 16 times per game.

(2) UConn vs. (7) TCU

Thomaskutty likes TCU’s ability to be disruptive on defense, noting the team forces 19 turnovers per game. UConn averages just 13.8 turnovers per game.

However, she also stated, “I believe Crystal Dangerfield will embody the consummate point guard for the Huskies, will handle TCU’s pressure and get the ball to her teammates in easy scoring positions.”

She also believes that Anna Makurat will be the x-factor for UConn, believing that her 6-1 frame won’t be bothered by TCU’s length.

Makurat is averaging 7.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Thomaskutty believes Makurat is playing her best basketball in March, something the Huskies will certainly need in later rounds.

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