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Courtside Players Club (12/15/23)

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10:00PM EST: UConn/Gonzaga Under 154 (4 Units)


This is technically a neutral site game, but this will be hosted in Gonzaga's Home State of Washington. They'll play in the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, which is just over 4 hours away from the Gonzaga Campus. UConn is on the opposite side of the Country and had to take a nearly 8 Hour flight to get there. The Bulldogs get a shot at redemption after taking a 28-Point Blowout Loss in the Elite 8 against these Huskies back in March. The Climate Pledge Arena seats more than 3x as many fans as Gonzaga's Home court. Anytime the reigning Champs, or a National Championship favorite, or a team that kicked your ass in the NCAA Tournament in the Elite 8 a year prior comes to visit, Fans and the stadium show out. UConn happens to be all 3 in one, expect a packed house.


The travel and timing of this game could very easily throw off this Huskies team early. It's difficult to bring your A Game on the road, even harder when it's all the way across the country. This is also a late start time. With the 3-Hour time difference this game starts much later than the Huskies are accustomed to. Most of their night games start by 7PM eastern and are over before the West Coast games even start. There's also the hostile house factor we were talking about. This is still a good but very new look Huskies team. They did go into Allen Fieldhouse and nearly pull off an upset against an Elite Kansas team, but it was their worst scoring output of the season.


Can trust UConn to play this game at their Tempo though. They are not a fast team by any metric this year or last. They currently rank 293rd in adjusted Tempo and were 204th as National Champs. The slowdown in pace makes sense when you lose 3 guys to the NBA and explosive ones at that. Donovan Clingan's presence really slows the game down on both sides of the floor. The 7'2 Center provides UConn with a great post-up and pick and roll presence offensively. On defense he's one of the best Rim Protectors in College Basketball today. One of NCAA's best scoring Bigs of the past few seasons, UNC's Armando Bacot, just had his worst shooting night of the season against UConn. With Drew Timme off to pursue an NBA career, Clingan will dominate down low.


Gonzaga on the other hand ranks 83rd in adjusted Tempo but the schedule's played into that. It's easy to run up and down the court against inferior opponents. They're 1-4 to the Under against High Major teams. They lost to Purdue 63-73 earlier this year, going under by 19 points. It's similar to what they'll see against UConn. There's nobody quite like Purdue big man Zach Edey, but Donovan Clingan provides a similar daunting defensive presence in the middle of the floor. Gonzaga ranks 195th in 3-PT% and 284th in 3-PT Rate. They aren't looking to shoot 3's, they want to get to the Rim. The Huskies rank 6th in opponent 2-PT FG% though. Their 3-PT defense has been a bit unlucky but positive regression is coming. Their defense ranks 51st in Open 3 Rate.


Gonzaga also struggled against UCLA, another strong interior defense (36th Opponent 2-PT FG%). It was during the Hawaii Invitational, but they won 69-65. They also shot 37.5% from deep that day. The UConn defense currently ranks 15th in adjusted defensive efficiency and were 7th last year. It's a point of emphasis for Dan Hurley's team and they do a great job of it. They're also battle tested, having played (15) Texas, (5) Kansas, and (9) North Carolina already.


They've also played most of their games without Freshman guard Stephon Castle. His offensive game hasn't translated just yet, but HC Dan Hurley couldn't wait to get him back for his defensive ability. He's a lengthy guard at 6'6 and a very important depth piece whose role will only expand as the season progresses. He came back against UNC and helped hold them to just 44.4% from the Field. He's also a great rebounder, averaging 5.8 rebounds per game on just 17.8 minutes.


Rebounding is another area that should help keep the scoring down. UConn ranks 7th in opponent offensive rebounds per game. They held Texas to 5, Kansas to 4, and North Carolina to 8. UNC is the Armando Bacot effect and Clingan dealt with some foul trouble. It was the only game this season Clingan's reached 4 fouls. He played just 20 minutes after playing 32 against Kansas. He's done a great job being available all year and Bacot's a much better offensive big than anyone Gonzaga has to throw at them. The strong defensive rebounding is part of the reason UConn tends to dictate the Tempo of games.


The Huskies do love to shoot the 3-Ball, but they haven't been as great as years past, ranking just 177th in 3-PT%. They still rank 55th in 3-PT Rate. Despite that they still rank 12th in FG% because they're very efficient inside. The Gonzaga defense ranks 18th in defensive efficiency. They're holding teams to just 29.1% from deep (42nd) and 42.8% inside the Arc (25th). Reigning CBB Player of the Year Zach Edey still scored 25 against Gonzaga but it was his least efficient performance of the year. He shot "just" 50% from the floor. He's at 63% this year and 25 points was the 2nd lowest he's scored in Purdue's 7 games against High Major teams.


All together both teams get most of their work done and defend well inside. UConn has a clear size and height advantage with Clingan and that will slow down Gonzaga at the rim like Edey did when they played Purdue. UConn also has very athletic guards which will help prevent dribble penetration. Hurley's offense will be in no hurry either. They really slowed it down when they went into Kansas, and we like them to do it again here. Helps suck the crowd out of the game and speeding things up will only help Gonzaga as they're the much stronger transition team. The crowd and travel are both working against the Huskies offense too.

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