We are now down to two teams in the Men's March Madness after a plethora of great games that started a couple of weeks ago. For many (myself included), brackets are either busted or a complete mess. Despite this, many will still be tuning in to Monday night's championship game between the fifth-seeded San Diego State Aztecs and the fourth-seeded UConn Huskies. Currently, UConn are seven-point favorites to take it home, but this tournament has been full of upsets so it would only be fitting for the Aztecs to cut down the nets when it's all said and done.
How San Diego State Can Win
Up until now, the Aztecs have never reached the Elite Eight. A thrilling, game-winner from Lamont Butler against Florida Atlantic in the Final Four sent them here. It has been a great ride for this team, but this game will be their toughest challenge as they look to join UNLV in 1990 as the only current mid-major programs to win the national championship.
It starts with defense. Currently, SDSU is giving up 60 points a game going into this one, while holding their opponents to 35.9% shooting from the field and 21.6% from three. This elite defense has to continue as UConn is 18-1 this season when they shoot 36% or better from behind the arc. Limiting the Huskies from three can cause some problems for this offensive juggernaut. If the Aztecs do this and their bigs stay physical and show off their length against UConn's forward Adama Sanogo, then they have a shot for an upset.
On the other side of the court, SDSU needs their leading scorer, Matt Bradley, to carry his momentum from their win against FAU. Bradley had 21 points and was 4/8 from three-point land which gave him his first 20 point game since New Year's Eve. He has to be on for the Aztecs to match the Huskies' offensive firepower.
X-Factor: Nathan Mensah
The fifth-year big man is an elite defensive talent that can lockdown the paint and switch onto guards. He is the epitome of the Aztec's length on defense, sporting a ridiculous seven-foot-four wingspan. He has the physicals to give SDSU a chance at containing Sanogo as well as giving them the ability to switch onto guards against the Huskies' consistent offensive sets.
How UConn Can Win
It has been awhile since we have seen Connecticut make a run like this. In fact, this is the first time the Huskies have advanced past the first round since winning the whole thing in 2014. This team however, might be one of the more dominant in recent memory. They currently own a 20.6 point differential in the Big Dance which is better than recent champions such as Baylor in 2021 (15.3) and Villanova in 2018 (17.6). To cite more stats that show just how incredibly dominant UConn has been to this point, here's another one: with their 13 point victory against the Miami Hurricanes yesterday, the Huskies have become the seventh team since 2000 to reach the final game by beating every opponent by double-digits. Of the previous six to do so, only the 2016 North Carolina team has failed to win it all. So yeah, to say that UConn has been good would be an understatement.
The Huskies' offense shows depth and great ball movement. Sanogo and guard Jordan Hawkins run a two-man game with an elite personnel around them. Hawkins is an elite shot creator and has the green light from basically anywhere. Their sets are efficient while their smart cutting and high-IQ passing has allowed them to steamroll their way to this point. This is going to give SDSU a handful all night and will be very difficult to stop.
While their offense is something to marvel at, their defense as of late has been just as good. The Huskies' haven't allowed more than 70 points to an opponent since February 25th. They also just shutdown a hot Gonzaga and Miami team and held them both to 33% and 32% respectively shooting from the field.
X-Factor: Huskies' Supporting Cast
Sanogo and Hawkins will be heavily focused on by the Aztecs in this one, which leaves the door wide open for the UConn supporting players to have a big night. Look for freshman center Donovan Clingan to provide another big spark off the bench after a nice job against Miami in which he had six boards and a block. Another freshman to mention is forward Alex Karaban whose had 31 points and 20 rebounds over his last three games. Senior guard Tristen Newton in my opinion has the brightest opportunity to come up big for his team as he is averaging 8.5 points, 6.8 assists, and 6.3 rebounds in this tournament and provides all-around guard play for his team.
I believe that this game will be closer than a lot of people think. Maybe I am a little bias because I am a sucker for close games in March Madness, but I am betting that nerves and adrenaline play some factors of their own and keep this one close throughout. With that being said, UConn just has too many weapons to throw at SDSU and I am not too high on the Aztecs shot making ability when compared to the Huskies and this will allow UConn to pull away a little late.
Final: UConn 74, San Diego State 66
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- W. Monast