UConn or Jackson State? How to pick 3 vs. 14 matchup in 2024 women’s March Madness bracket

Two weeks ago, Jackson State head coach Tomekia Reed saw her Lady Tigers get ranked in the AP national poll for the first time in program history. This weekend, they head to Storrs, CT to take on Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies in the first round of the women’s March Madness tournament (1 p.m. ET, Saturday). It’s a classic powerhouse vs. Cinderella matchup.

UConn, a 3-seed, isn’t nearly as dominant as its reigning-champion male counterparts. However, the lady Huskies are pretty good. When we last saw UConn, Paige Bueckner scored a team-high 27 points en route to a 78-42 shellacking of the Georgetown Hoyas in the Big East championship. Auriema’s squad won all three Big East tournament games by 29-plus.

Jackson State, meanwhile, beat Alcorn State 68-44 last Saturday to seal its third SWAC championship in four years. Andriana Avent’s 17 points led the Tigers, with two-time SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Angel Jackson playing stifling defense.

Can Jackson State play spoiler and pull off a massive first-round upset? Or, will Connecticut hold court and take care of the visiting Tigers? Here’s a complete guide to Saturday’s matchup between UConn and Jackson State, including odds, picks and key metrics to know.

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UConn vs. Jackson St. odds

Early odds have UConn as a massive 34.5-point favorite entering this weekend’s matchup, according to BetMGM.

  • Odds: UConn (-34.5)
  • Date: Saturday, March 23
  • Time: 1 p.m. ET
  • TV: ABC/Sling
  • Arena: Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut

UConn (30-5, 18-0 in Big East)

It has been another dominant season for the Huskies, who enter the weekend riding a nine-game winning streak. They won 30 games total, went undefeated in the Big East and maintained a pristine 13-1 record at home. 

Auriemma, who has 1,209 wins and 11 national championships in 39 seasons as the Huskies head coach, should have his team ready for another deep tournament run. UConn has a +833 scoring differential on the season, downing opponents by an average of 24.5 points per game. Its 80.8 PPG and 56.3 PPG allowed rank 13th and 23rd in the nation, respectively.

MORE: How UConn can reach the women’s national championship

The only question mark will be health. UConn currently has just seven healthy players in rotation, with star forward Aaliyah Edwards (17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds per game) questionable with a broken nose she suffered in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament last weekend.

The injury issues have hurt the Huskies’ offense, with their average points production dropping from 83.7 in its first 14 games of the season to 75.8 over its past 10. Edwards, a projected top-five pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, would be a huge absence if she’s unable to suit up with the broken nose.

That would put a lot of pressure on the shoulders of star guard Paige Bueckers, who has an extensive injury history of her own. Buckers, who won the Naismith and Wooden awards as a freshman in 2021, is averaging 21.3 points (12th-most in the nation), 4.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists this season.

Key players

Paige Bueckers, G, Jr. (6-0): 21.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.7 apg

Aaliyah Edwards, F, Sr. (6-3): 17.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.1 apg

Ashlynn Shade, G, Fr. (5-10): 11.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.5 apg

MORE: Buy tickets to 2024 March Madness games

Jackson St. (26-6, 18-0 in Southwestern Athletic)

The Tigers have been rolling all season, currently riding a 21-game winning streak and they seem almost underrated after making the tournament their third time in four years. Reed almost coached them to an upset over LSU in the opening round of the 2022 tourney (83-77), in which Jackson St. had the same exact 14-seed they have today.

Between coaching, size, and experience — not to mention health — the Tigers have more than a shot to pull off an upset here if they can get their open shots to fall. Andriana Avent has emerged as a solid scorer, while the trio of Angel Jackson, Ti’lan Boler, and Miya Crump can get it done on both ends of the floor. Their defense ranks 28th in the nation, allowing just 56.6 PPG. 

The biggest weakness of this Jackson St. team has been outside shooting, as Reed’s squad has shot just 28.7 percent from outside the three-point line. Even more concerning, UConn has held opponents to just 27.9 percent from deep. They also don’t pass as well as most teams in the tourney, with no player averaging more than 3.7 assists per game.

However, the Tigers have plenty of athleticism, they crash the boards, and they play with a ton of heart. They have been in this spot before, and they won’t be nearly as easy an out against the banged-up Huskies as the oddsmakers might be making it seem. 

Key players

Andriana Avent, G, Sr. (6-0): 12.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.9 spg

Ti’lan Boler, G, Sr. (6-1): 11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.8 spg

Angel Jackson, G/F, Sr. (6-6): 9.9 ppg, 6.9 apg, 3.0 bpg

WOMEN’S BRACKET GUIDES: Iowa | South Carolina | LSU | USC | UConn

UConn vs. Jackson St. prediction

Reed has been here before, with Jackson St. almost pulling off an impossible upset over Kim Mulkey and the LSU Tigers two years ago. One thing we won’t have to worry about is the head coach or her team suffering from nerves going into the hallowed ground of Storrs, CT. The Tigers also benefit from a health advantage, as they enter the weekend with far fewer bumps and bruises than the Huskies.

We have the experienced Jackson St. covering this gargantuan spread on defense alone. If stud 6-6 senior Angel Jackson can lock down Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards can’t suit up, we could be on upset alert. 

Of course, if Jackson St. can’t develop rhythm on the offensive side of the floor, this one could be over by halftime. Too much isolation and too little outside scoring has hurt the Tigers against top-end competition, and these Huskies are easily among the best competition Reed’s squad has faced this season. 

Jackson State’s starting five combined to hit just two three-pointers in the SWAC championship last weekend, both of which came from Ti’lan Boler. Avent and Hayleigh Breland did combine for seven off the bench, but the lack of range from the Tigers’ core five is still concerning.

In the end, we have UConn prevailing in this one but failing to cover the spread. Jackson St. will play a physical, athletic brand of basketball, showcasing its size and experience. But even with a banged-up rotation, the Huskies at home are near impossible for a mid-major with shooting issues to knock off.

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