When: Monday, April 3
Where: NRG Stadium — Houston, Texas
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -7.5, over/under 132 - Odds presented by DraftKings
KenPom Predicted Score: No. 4 UConn 69, No. 5 San Diego State 64 | 69 percent win probability
UConn is 40 minutes from its fifth national title in program history. After handling Miami (FL) on Saturday night, the Huskies will take on the San Diego State Aztecs, who advanced to the title game after clawing back from a deficit as large as 14 points to take down Florida Atlantic. Guard Lamont Butler hit a baseline midrange jumper as time expired to give SDSU a 72-71 win and the first title game appearance in program history.
The Aztecs, led by head coach Brian Dutcher, are a battle-tested group that had to take down No. 1 overall seed Alabama and Creighton to get to Houston. San Diego State doesn’t boast an ultra-efficient offense like the Hurricanes have, but rather a physical, lockdown defense that will be the best the Huskies have faced all tournament. The Aztecs rank No. 4 amongst all teams in adjusted defensive efficiency and have enough size in the post to bang with the likes of Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan down low.
Despite being the heaviest title game favorite since 2009, cutting down the nets is never easy, and San Diego State will provide a uniquely tough test that the Huskies have not yet faced this March. UConn has rolled through the tournament so far on the backs of a stifling defense and incredible offensive performances from Jordan Hawkins and Sanogo. They’ve trailed for just over 26 minutes this entire tournament, with 25 of those minutes coming in the first- and second-round games. Forty more minutes and a win would give this year’s Huskies squad one of the most dominant tournament runs in recent memory.
A win for UConn would give the Huskies five national titles in five tries, extending their own record. It would also cement the return of the program to its early-millennium heights and solidify UConn as one the top programs in all of college basketball.
When UConn Has the Ball
Adama Sanogo was once again masterful against Miami, dominating a shorter Hurricanes frontcourt to the tune of a 21-point, 10-board double-double — his third of the tournament. UConn is 12-0 this season when Sanogo scores 20 or more points, and getting the Mali product involved early and often will once again be key against the Aztecs. San Diego State bigs Nathan Mensah and Keshad Johnson have good size at 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-7 respectively, and ripped down 11 total rebounds in Saturday’s wins over the Owls. Mensah also ranks 14th nationally in block percentage, and should provide a much different look in the paint than what the Huskies had to face Saturday night.
San Diego State excels at limiting opponents' success from behind the arc, which means Hawkins will be followed closely around the perimeter. The sophomore was limited a bit on Saturday after eating some bad calamari, but still chipped in 13 points. He’ll be a key target for the Aztecs Monday night, but Tristen Newton, Alex Karaban and Joey Calcaterra are still floor-stretching weapons for UConn after combining to shoot 4-11 from deep against Miami. This season, San Diego State is holding opponents to 28.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc, the third-best total in the nation.
With the Aztecs’ size and defensive prowess, this national championship will almost certainly be won on the boards. San Diego State is a solid rebounding team on both ends and UConn will need to continue to dominate the glass to be able to cut down the nets. The Huskies have out-rebounded their opponents in 21 straight games and remain the best offensive-rebounding team in the tournament. The likes of Sanogo, Clingan and Andre Jackson will need to continue to own the glass to ensure they can control the flow of the game.
Despite heavy defensive pressure, Newton was a steady presence against Miami and once again flirted with a triple-double with seven points, five rebounds and eight assists to just three turnovers. He’s grown mightily into his role as the Huskies’ point guard this season, and his ability to get to the hoop or stretch the floor with a 3-pointer has added another dimension to the Huskies' offense. The backcourt of Newton and Jackson has nearly 60 assists this tournament, and has allowed UConn to rotate the ball quickly out of double teams to find open shooters.
When San Diego State has the ball
The Aztecs had just two players in double figures in the national semifinal against FAU, with senior guard Matt Bradley leading the way with 21 points. Bradley was the only starter in double figures, joined by Jaedon LeDee, who scored 12 points in just 14 minutes.
Bradley came up in a big way against the Owls after struggling in the regionals last weekend, where he scored just eight total points. Against FAU, Bradley hit 4-8 from three and tied a team-high with four offensive rebounds, using his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage against a smaller Owls backcourt.
LeDee, a TCU transfer, is a prototypical slasher who acts as a microwave scorer for the Aztecs off the bench. He’s scored 10 or more points twice this tournament for San Diego State, all in under 20 minutes or less. LeDee isn’t a 3-point threat — he hasn’t attempted one since February — but can get to the rim and create contact. At 6-foot-9, he has some size and will likely draw a defensive assignment from Alex Karaban or Jackson.
San Diego State connected on 50 percent of its outside shots Saturday night — the highest percentage all tournament for the Aztecs — but shoot just over 34 percent from deep on the season. SDSU doesn’t normally shoot much from 3-point range, but may roll the dice a little more to try and keep pace with UConn’s high-octane offense.