No. 1 UConn (31-0; 16-0 AAC) v. No. 16 St. Francis (Pa.) (24-9)
Saturday, March 17, 11 a.m. ET
Somebody had to get UConn. This year, it is St. Francis (Pa.), and it is the third meeting of these teams in the NCAA Tournament. Although banged up a bit, the Huskies have all five starters available for the first two rounds of the tourney, and they are not in danger of losing to a 16 seed. The Red Flash lost to UConn in the first round in 1999 (by 51) and in 2002 (by 49).
While the outcome will not be different, this St. Francis team has a player unlike any they brought to the other two meetings of the teams. Junior guard Jessica Kovatch averages 24.9 points, second best in the country to Iowa’s Megan Gustafson (25.6). The Huskies have a history of limiting the best scorer on the opposition, and Kovatch will probably have a tough time finding open looks on Saturday.
The Red Flash averaged over 80 points per game this season, but gave up 71. UConn will change both figures for the worse, and likely win by a similar margin to past games.
The Huskies are the top seed in the Albany regional, and are the only undefeated team in Division I. Five players average double figures, and four have more than 100 assists. They have the nation’s best defense, and Gabby Williams is the most versatile player in the nation, leading the team in assists and rebounds as an undersized forward (5-11). Katie Lou Samuelson and Kia Nurse both shoot over 45 percent from three-point range, among the top ten. It goes on and on. If UConn plays its A game, it is unbeatable. Playing at home, the will not lose to any team in this sub-regional.
No. 8 Miami (21-10; 10-6 ACC) v. No. 9 Quinnipiac (27-5; 18-0 MAAC)
Saturday, March 17, 1 p.m. ET
Quinnipiac reached the round of sixteen last year as a 12 seed by beating Miami, then the No. 4 seed, in the second round, 85-78. No one has been talking “payback” except the press, and the teams line up as 8 versus 9 opponents usually do: it is likely to be a great game.
Bobcat coach Trish Fabbri has created a low-major powerhouse, with the fourth trip to the Tournament in the last six years, from the one-team-gets-in Mid-Atlantic conference. The senior led team dominated their conference this season, going undefeated in league play.
Forward Jen Fay is the leading scorer (13.1 ppg) and rebounder (6.9 rpg). She is the emotional leader of the team, and shoots .405 from beyond the arc. Carly Fabbri, the coach’s daughter, is also the point guard, with an impressive 136 assists to just 46 turnovers, Her 2.96 assist/turnover ratio is 11th in the nation.
Quinnipiac relies heavily on the three-ball, and they shoot it well. The team attempted 802 threes during the regular season. Fabbri , Fay, and Junior forward Paula Strautmane all shoot over 40 percent. They do not rebound particularly well, but their defense held opponents to 58 points and .385 shooting this season. That defense also forced 200 more turnovers than the team committed. The Bobcats boast a 1.42 assist turnover ratio, 11th in D-1, but far below UConn’s 1.82.
Miami, of course, plays in the much more challenging ACC, finishing sixth in a league that sent seven teams to the tournament. They had wins over Kentucky, Duke, and NC State during the season, and lost to Florida State (ranked No. 11 nationally) by just four points in the ACC tournament.
Erykah Davenport leads the Canes in scoring (12.3) and rebounding (8.6), but the team spreads the scoring and minutes among seven players. Unlike Quinnipiac, Miami does not shoot the three well (or often), and protects it even worse. Only one regular player has more assists than turnovers, and not by much.
The difference in the second game will depend on how well the Bobcats shoot the three, and whether the Canes can avoid turning the ball over for multiple points. The intangible is that Quinnipiac has a virtual home game, traveling just 50 miles from campus to Storrs.
Predictions: UConn over St. Francis by 40. Quinnipiac “upsetting” Miami for the second straight year, this time by five.
Second round: UConn over whomever by 30.