2023 NCAA Championship Game! No. 5 SDSU vs. No. 4 Connecticut: Game Preview & Prediction
A face-melting finish in SDSU’s Final Four match with FAU has basketball fans believing ANYTHING is possible for the Aztecs.
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Most importantly, the Aztecs have THE HEART to win a national championship.
WHO: No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs (32-6, 15-3 MW) vs. No. 4 University of Connecticut Huskies (30-8, 13-7 BIG EAST)
WHEN: Monday, April 3rd – 6:20 p.m. PST | 9:20 p.m. EST
WHERE: NRG Stadium- Houston, TX (Capacity 71,000)
STREAM: Fubo — Get a free trial
RADIO: San Diego Sports 760 / SiriusXM App ch. 968
SERIES RECORD: SDSU and UCONN meet for the 2nd time in the 2023 NCAA Championship Game. UCONN leads the series 1-0)
LAST MEETING: March 24th, 2011, the Huskies won 74-67 during the 2011 NCAA Sweet Sixteen, in the match billed as “Kawhi vs. Kemba.”
WEBSITES: GoAztecs.com, the official San Diego State athletics website; UCONNHuskies, the official Connecticut athletics website.
ODDS: SDSU +7.5
Houston, TX – On college basketball’s biggest stage the No. 5 Aztecs (32-6) face off against the No. 4 Huskies (30-8) in the NCAA National Championship Monday night. Tipoff from NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, is 9:20 p.m. EST. The Huskies are favored by 7.5 points.
The Aztecs clawed, fought and then did the unimaginable to earn their place in this year’s NCAA Championship. For the Aztec Nation, this Championship is an unprecedented historic university moment.
San Diego State beat Florida Atlantic 72-71 in stunning fashion during the Final Four, with a last second buzzer beating field goal, after trailing the Owls for most of the game. The Aztecs have won nine straight games.
Connecticut beat Miami 72-59 in the Final Four on Saturday night, leading from beginning to end. The 13-point win was UCONN’s narrowest margin of victory in the Tournament. The Huskies have won five straight games.
Who will take the NCAA Championship title? Let’s take a closer look.
Why The Huskies Will Win
The Huskies seek a fifth national title on Monday night against the Aztecs. They held Miami, the nation’s fifth-ranked offense to just 24 first-half points. Miami finished with a 32.3 percent on field goals and 35.0 percent behind the arc. Connecticut out-rebounded the Canes by a margin of 9, and 19 of 28 field goals were assisted. This offset their 15 turnovers committed.
UCONN’s scoring leader, junior forward Adama Sanogo (6’9″) averages 17.2 points on 60.7 percent shooting, and 7.6 boards per game. Other key Huskies to watch are sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins (6’5″) with 16.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, senior guard Tristen Newton (6’5″) with 9.8 points, 4.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, freshman forward Alex Karaban (6’8″) with 9.4 points, and 4.5 rebounds per game, freshman center Donovan Clingan (7’2″) with 7.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and junior guard Andre Jackson Jr. (6’6″) who averages 6.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. The Huskies lineup is tall, and generally the Aztecs have height to match. Clingan will be a handful, and the Aztecs will have to exhibit physicality to impact his effectiveness.
Connecticut averages 79.0 points per game which is 29th in the nation, and shoots 45.9 percent from the field and makes 35.6 percent from the beyond the arc- 105th in the nation for both of the latter stats. The Huskies make 75.8 percent of their free throws- 40th nationally- and they average 36.1 rebounds- 12th in the nation. They average, a +9.6 rebounding margin on opponents.
UCONN is 3rd in schedule-adjusted offensive efficiency, 30th in effective field goal percentage (54.1%), and 214th in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom.
UCONN surrenders 64.8 points defensively (43rd), and its opponents shoot 40.8 percent (32nd), including 29.7 percent from deep (14th). The Huskies are 8th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 28th in assist-per-turnover ratio.
The Huskies play a controlled game with solid offense and defense and they make their opponents pay when they’re not guarded behind the arc. They don’t miss much at the free throw line, and every player plays his part efficiently. They’re well coached.
Statistically, the Huskies are serious and formidable opponents who have cascaded through the 2023 NCAA Tournament to the finals. They have confidently disassembled many talented tournament foes, however . . .
Why The Aztecs Will Win
Right now, SDSU is playing at a level we’ll just call miracle mode.
The Aztecs made history after stunningly defeating the Owls with the first-ever Final Four buzzer beater. Down one point, with less than ten seconds left, San Diego State guard Lamont Butler was passed the ball after Aguek Arop and Nathan Mensah blocked and rebounded a critical shot attempt.
Butler was in the corner with two seconds left, when he cooly stepped left, squared up and with a long mid-range jumper he iced a miraculous finish that sent San Diego State to its first-ever national title game. Everybody, in attendance was in utter and complete disbelief.
Charles Barkley had to stand up and walk off the play. Matt Bradley was rendered speechless when interviewed. FAU’s beloved mascot Owlsley reportedly punched a baby. Dedicated Aztecs in attendance at NRG Stadium were in absolute ecstatic delirium, as reality sank in that SDSU had just waged victory.
At one point, the Aztecs had trailed by 14 points. SDSU displayed the persistence needed for a double-digit comeback against a foe firing on all cylinders. Florida Atlantic cooled, and SDSU pulled it together in a big way. The Aztecs shot 43.9 percent overall from the field, and made 9-for-18 from three-point range, and won rebounding with 12 offensive grabs.
Senior guard Bradley is San Diego State’s top scorer, averaging 12.7 points on 40.1 percent shooting and 3.8 rebounds per game. A few other Aztecs to watch on Monday night are senior guard Darrion Trammell who has been averaging 9.7 points and 3 assists per game, senior forward (and Houston native) Jaedon LeDee who averages 7.9 points and 5.3 boards per game. Junior guard Micah Parrish averages 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, senior forward Keshad Johnson averages 7.5 points and 5.0 boards per game, and senior forward Nathan Mensah manages 6.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and a whole lot of blocks per game.
The Aztecs score 72.9 points per game (148th) and shoot 45.2 percent from the floor (155th), including 36.3 percent from long range (71st). They convert 73.1 percent of their free throws (125th) and average 32.4 rebounds (143rd) with a +5.0 rebounding margin. SDSU is 68th in schedule-adjusted offensive efficiency, 218th in effective field goal percentage (49.6%), and 270th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom.
The Aztecs surrender 64.4 points per game defensively (37th), and their opponents shoot 42.1 percent from the floor (82nd) with a 29.8 shooting percentage from long distance (15th). They’re 4th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 112th in assist-per-turnover ratio.
The Aztecs didn’t do a great job defending the three against FAU as they had with Creighton and Alabama. It will be vital that they do a better job against the Huskies, period. The Aztecs will have to disrupt the Huskies as they try to produce assists by generating turnovers and converting those into points. They will have to go for fast break points- better than they did against FAU. If they do this, they might get an upper hand against Connecticut.
There won’t be a great advantage to slowing down the tempo because this is not how the Huskies play. They are calculated, controlled and they wait for a good open look and then they strike precisely. The Aztecs will need to agitate them, and rattle them by taking the ball away and making good looks at three point shooting harder. Sanogo’s low-post defense is suspect, which the Aztecs will look to exploit, as they did down the stretch against the Owls. Clingan, UCONN’s big, must be contested by Mensah, Arop and LeDee.
The Aztecs need to exploit every weakness and opportunity between physical low-post defense, turnovers, and three-point disruption. If they do so, they will achieve victory.
What Will Happen
The Aztecs have proven they can beat the best teams in the nation. They have defied the odds again and again in the NCAA Tournament, and when most teams would let despair set in: the Aztecs can find another gear. At the most critical moments Brian Dutcher can sideline his top athletes and put total faith in strategies that come together, even when seemingly impractical.
This is a very tough call. Everybody in the nation has picked Connecticut to win by a solid margin. In some respects a 7.5 point margin might be considered by some to be a complement to SDSU.
But SDSU keeps finding a way to overcome the odds, and to escape ahead. They’ve done it over and over and over.
Will the Aztecs come out ahead on Monday night? The mind says an Aztec win is improbable. Yet going with the gut: the Aztecs have enough belief in themselves and each other- and more importantly, they have the heart to win a national championship. If the Huskies find them menacing enough, and if they capitalize on turnovers, Connecticut will start to believe they’ve met a true match, and their confidence will be shaken.
The Aztecs do not relent, even if it appears they’re too far behind to get ahead, and their power-of-will is likely greater than any team in the nation- including UCONN.
San Diego State’s on-ball defense, rebounding and turnover capabilities will open up the chance for Aztec victory.
Here’s the call: in a closely contested, physical battle . . . San Diego State will rattle the the once indomitable Huskies just enough to wage victory.
In the end, the Aztecs are going to win this game.
Final Score: SDSU 73, UCONN 70
The winner will be crowned 2023 NCAA Tournament Champions.