It's kind of an extraordinary story that San Diego State is in the NCAA championship game, because their best opportunity appeared to be back in 2020, when they had won 30 of 32 games and may have been considered the Big Dance favorite if not for a slip-up in the Mountain West title game. Oh, and because the Pac 12 Conference, which looks to be in tatters at the moment, appears to have some trepidation about adding SDSU as a member.
Well, at least they did, until now.
BetOnline customers may not have been expecting the Aztecs to be in this spot, but the program has been moving in that direction. You can't get to the Final Four without having something on the ball offensively, and as San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher tells recruits, "If you're not about defense, this is not the program for you."
SDSU can make a quantum leap on Monday night with a victory against the UConn Huskies. The game will start about 9:20 PM ET at NRG Stadium in Houston, where the Aztecs beat Florida Atlantic and UConn defeated Miami on Saturday, thus depriving fans of an all-Sunshine State final.
The Aztecs have been walking that tightrope, winning games in the waning moments, including the last one against FAU, when Lamont Butler sank a jumper as the buzzer sounded. They are considered very fortunate by some. UConn, on the other hand, has cut a huge path through its opposition. After losing to Marquette in the Big East final, they have turned into a monster, as Final Four opponent Miami has come closest, and they were a 13-point victim.
We're not sure this is a "super-team,' but it's worth asking whether we are underestimating the Huskies or not giving them enough credit.
In the NCAA Championship odds established at BetOnline, UConn is the favorite:
UConn Huskies -7 (-105)
San Diego State Aztecs -7 (-115)
Over 132.5 Points -105
Under 132.5 Points -115
It's not unreasonable to point out that UConn has not been beaten outside their conference this season, and have covered all but one of those non-conference affairs. When you're playing in a league like the Big East, you are going to get knocked arouind from time to time, and yes, that happened to them. But they have "traveled" well out of conference, and that includes a 15-point win over Alabama.
One thing UConn will have to overcome is San Diago State's ability to get out to the perimeter and stop teams from dialing lomng distance. FAU hit nine of 22 beyond the arc, but prior to that they had given up just 19% in three-pointers.
So which of these teams has the ability to score inside the arc, and more to the point, get the easy buckets? Well, from where we sit, that's UConn, which not only comes at you with Adama Sanogo, who is averaging over 20 points and ten rebounds in this tournament, but then comes in and substitutes seven-footer Donovan Clingan, who averages 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 13 minutes a game. Even though SDSU has Nathan Mensah, a big man who was Mountain West defender of the year, they stil ldo not win that matchup.
The Aztecs do not pose a huge threat from three-point range, and they shoot below 49% in two-pointers (246th in the nation). Their best hope is at the free throw line; Almost 24% of the points UConn's opponents have scored has been at the stripe.
That's basically their chance. And that's not enough.
UConn defends no matter where the opponent is shooting from (15th vs. two-pointers, 11th vs. threes), so we fail to see a formula whereby SDSU wins this. Given the choice between one side or the other, we'd lean towards the one that has looked very much like the dominant group. UCONN.
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