The stage is set in the Lone Star State for a college basketball national championship like we’ve never seen before.
On the one hand, we have San Diego State – a team that reached the top of college basketball for the first time in its history.
But meeting them there will be UConn – a team whose storied history has seen them claim the title four times before that. A fifth title would crown the life support program’s return to glory from just five years ago.
These two teams have met before at Sweet 16 2011 – when the Aztecs were led by Kawhi Leonard, but fell short against the Huskies, led by Kemba Walker. But now they meet on college basketball’s biggest stage, with greater stakes than ever before.
Before turning the ball over, DailyMail.com takes a look at both teams’ performances in the Final Four, which players they’ve earned, and who will lift the trophy at the end of it all.
UConn coach Dan Hurley (left) and SDSU coach Brian Dutcher (right) laugh on Sunday
The Huskies and Aztecs meet in the tournament again – but the stakes are higher than before
SDSU post-game analysis
On Friday, Aztec junior ranger Lamont Butler explained his mantra of not leaving six seconds to decide.
“At the start of the season, I turned the ball over against Arkansas and made some mistakes in the last two seconds of the game,” he explained. Against New Mexico, I was able to redeem myself.
It just means to stay humble, keep your head down, and keep going. You can’t let a small mistake define you and you have to keep going.
After last night, Lamont Butler will not be determined by those six seconds. Instead, he will be etched into March Madness lore forever as his buzzer-beating jumper gave San Diego State the win over Florida Atlantic to reach the school’s first-ever national championship.
“I definitely dreamed of a moment like this growing up,” Butler said at a news conference Sunday. This was definitely a dream come true, but it was nothing compared to what actually happened. I am happy.’
SDSU managed to bounce back after several severe droughts that led FAU by 14 at one point. The Aztecs had not led since the first half when Butler’s strike won the game for them.
Defensively, San Diego State managed to fall apart in the second half – holding FAU to just 33 percent shooting and forcing seven turnovers. Their physical strength outdid them at some points – and they committed a total of 17 fouls. But they held on, as the Owls of FAU only managed eight shots the entire second half.
Lamont Butler fulfilled his dreams with a game-winning shot to go to the title game
SDSU players to watch
Matt Bradley shook off rust from his poor showing in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight to go with 21 points, six rebounds, and two assists on a 5-12 shooting streak.
Butler put up nine points—including a game-winner—along with three assists, two steals and two steals. Fellow guard Darrion Trammell will need to step up his game after a 2-8 shooting night against FAU for 5 points. He’s more than capable of putting in a big performance – as he did in the Sweet 16 against Alabama.
Off the bench, big man Gideon Leddy put up 12 points and six boards in just 15 minutes of game time. He’s proven to be a great option when shots don’t fall in favor of Nathan Mensah – who was in serious trouble and only hit seven points in 22 minutes of game time.
Overall, this team will benefit from their defensive physicality and experience. They are the 21st most experienced team according to Keenbaum and don’t often let go of a lot.
But more importantly, they would prove problematic because of how often they rotate their players. SDSU has an astonishing nine players averaging over 15 minutes per game — seven averaging over 20 minutes per game.
Matt Bradley (20) found his scoring touch again in last night’s win
The Aztecs are hoping Darion Trammell will step up his game on Monday
Jaedon LeDee (13) had an amazing performance off the bench against FAU
This added element of different bodies and different looks will provide head coach Brian Dutcher with much-needed versatility as they look to challenge UConn on all sides of the floor.
“Obviously we have to control them in the transition,” Dutcher said at a news conference in Houston. “They’re a good 3-point shooting team in transition that we’ve played all year.”
But, he added, the team wasn’t afraid of them: Our first opponent is ourselves. Well like Connecticut…we will study and respect them, but our level of play is our goal. “
If they beat us to our highest standards, they deserve to win. But we have to play at our level.
UConn post-game analysis
There was a point that Miami had a 7-0 run in the second half. Momentum was swinging the Hurricanes’ way, and the building was cheering for them as UConn coach Dan Hurley called a timeout. You can get this feeling that things can go ‘The U’ way and that they can win this.
There was just one problem: They were still down by 12 points.
UConn’s relentless style of play never took a break against the ‘Canes’. Although Miami managed more offensive rebounds than the Huskies, Connecticut was still able to push through in transition and control the game.
Even with star guard Jordan Hawkins sophomore under the weather, he still performed well and the rest of the team was able to pick up where he left off.
When asked by DailyMail.com on Sunday if he was getting better, he simply replied, “Yes sir, I’ll be 100% on Monday.”
The same goes for Adama Sanogo – whose fasting during Ramadan affected his game – but in a positive way.
The Huskies finished the game with the smallest margin of victory in the tournament to date – but managed to keep their double-digit winning streak going.
Hurley (right) and his toughs dominated every opponent they faced in March
UConn players to watch
Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins, and Andre Jackson Jr. remain some of the most effective scorers on this Connecticut team.
Sanogo put up a 9-11 shooting streak on Saturday for 21 points along with 10 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 blocks. Hawkins, who is dealing with food poisoning, was rotated to keep him healthy and still managed 13 points and three boards. Jackson had foul trouble early on, limiting his time to just 22 minutes, but still managed to score six points, two rebounds, and three assists.
But as UConn has shown time and time again, their seat has always been able to move up. Last night, the Huskies and Hurricanes each managed 17 points off the non-starters, but UConn managed more assists and more rebounds.
When Sanogo is resting, the taller presence at 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan comes in to drop shots and grab rebounds. When Jackson needs to sit down to avoid big problems, Naeem Aliene comes in and puts up an excellent defense against the high guards – like he did last night against Isiah Wong. When Hawkins needs a rest, Joey Calcaterra comes off the bench to provide an option from the range to give the Huskies what they need.
Although they need to tighten up their efficiency from beyond the arc, the Huskies are a well-oiled machine who have shown their ability to be ruthless and effective throughout the tournament. Don’t expect that to change now.
Okon players Adama Sanogo (left) and Jordan Hawkins (right) led the team in scoring on Saturday.
Bench threats like freshman center Donovan Clingan (32) provide extraordinary depth
So who will win it all?
As mentioned in the previous segment reviewing the Final Four, the nameless coaches highlighted one of San Diego State’s weaknesses as their willingness to run dry.
It reared its ugly head again last night. The Aztecs experienced five separate droughts of more than two minutes and one drought of more than three minutes.
This will be a problem for them. UConn’s transition offense is one of the best in the country. To prove this, let’s use a metric that should accurately depict how well a team can capitalize on mistakes and we’ll call it Direct Points off Defensive Rebounds (DPODR).
Essentially, this begs the question: can a team take a defensive rebound and then immediately score said rebound. So far in this tournament, UConn is averaging 21.8 points direct from defensive rebounds per game. SDSU averages 18.
But we can go further by dividing the DPODR numbers by the total number of defensive passes a team gets in a match. It comes with a ratio that can be called direct points for defensive rebounds (DPPDR). UConn averages 0.712 of those points. SDSU averages 0.588.
UConn’s ability to capitalize on mistakes will give the Huskies a clear advantage on Monday
But SDSU’s experience and defensive strength could cause problems for Connecticut
This is the statistical context. For a historical context, UConn has gone to four national championship games prior to this one and has won them all. SDSU is at this point for the first time.
The Huskies have also won every championship game by double digits in the title game—something only five teams have done since the field was last expanded in 1985.
SDSU’s age and experience should help them, but they can’t continue to run dry like they have in every other championship game they’ve played.
If they can’t manage it, the Huskies will both be looking to hoist another banner into the already crowded rafters of Gampel Pavilion.
(tags for translation) Daily Mail