Aztecs Embrace Underdog Role
The 2023 National Championship Game is set with No. 5 San Diego State (32-6) taking on No. 4 UConn (30-8). The Aztecs won in a thriller against Florida Atlantic thanks to guard Lamont Butler’s mid-range jump shot at the buzzer. The Huskies kept rolling with a 72-59 win against Miami.
The sportsbook has San Diego State as a significant underdog with the 7½-point spread. Since 1985, UConn has the second-highest total margin of victory through five games of the NCAA Tournament at 103 points. Do the Aztecs stand a chance in Monday’s title game? Here’s why San Diego State will defy March Madness expert picks.
Defense Wins Championships
During March Madness, the Aztecs are 2-0 against the spread (ATS) as an underdog. SDSU’s Sweet 16 matchup against No. 1 Alabama is comparable to Monday’s game. The Crimson Tide was rolling before meeting San Diego State with an average score margin of 21.5 points. College basketball odds favored Alabama by 6½ points. The Aztecs are familiar with the underdog role and flourished the last time everyone said they could not win.
An elite defense gives San Diego State a chance in every game. It is fourth in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency and ranks 23rd with 63.3 allowed points per game. After holding opponents to 34.1% shooting and 17% on 3-pointers in the first four games of the tournament, Florida Atlantic shot 44% from the field and went nine of 22 on 3-pointers (41%) in the Final Four.
The Owls were red-hot in the first half with 40 points while shooting better than 50% from the floor. The Aztecs tightened the clamps in the second half, but the Owls’ 3-point shooting was a problem from start to finish. This was a surprise with SDSU ranking third in opponent 3-point percentage.
The Huskies are averaging 10 made 3-pointers in the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs boast the best perimeter defense UConn has seen in the postseason. While SDSU’s perimeter defense was shaky in the Final Four, it has been dominant for most of the tournament. The Aztecs’ defense is equipped to slow the Huskies’ knockdown shooters, making San Diego State an intriguing March Madness pick.
Backcourt Bolsters Chances
The Aztecs’ backcourt play has been fantastic. Darrion Trammell (9.7 points) averaged 15.3 points from the second round to the Elite Eight. Lamont Butler (8.7 points) is averaging double figures over the last four games. Plus, he delivered the game-winning shot in the come-from-behind Final Four win.
LAMONT BUTLER WINS IT AT THE BUZZER 😱
THE AZTECS ARE #NATIONALCHAMPIONSHIP BOUND 🔥#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/2sqxu5g05j
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) April 2, 2023
Most importantly, Matt Bradley (12.7 points) has finally found his footing. The fifth-year senior shot 22.2% in the three games before the Final Four. Bradley was the leading scorer against Florida Atlantic with 21 points while shooting four of eight from beyond the arc.
When making March Madness predictions, we know how important guard play is. UConn boasts an impressive backcourt too, led by Jordan Hawkins (16.2 points). However, San Diego State could have a more complete backcourt.
Trammell, Butler and Bradley are capable of creating off the dribble, have reliable jump shots and defend at a high level. An outstanding backcourt gives the Aztecs a good chance to pull off the upset. Per NCAA Basketball lines, Bradley (+900) and Butler (+1000) are the third and fourth choices to win the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Aztecs Will Challenge UConn’s Depth
Exceptional depth fuels San Diego State. Its nine-man rotation allows the defense to apply the pressure for 40 relentless minutes. Staying fresh is always an advantage. However, UConn has a deep rotation too, playing as many as eight players.
However, the Huskies have yet to play a deep rotation in March Madness. Four of UConn’s five opponents gave extended minutes to no more than seven players. Gonzaga was the only exception with its eight-man rotation. None compare to the Aztecs’ deep lineup.
San Diego State leans heavily on its bench. Typically, several reserve players record more than 20 minutes. Some of the Aztecs’ best players come off of the bench, like forward Jaedon LeDee (7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds).
JAEDON LEDEE WITH THE HAMMER 😤
See if San Diego State can pull off the upset 👉 https://t.co/53MVufeZ7Y#MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/Dy11KdGEm0
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 25, 2023
The Huskies have torn through their competition with an average scoring margin of 20.6 points. Having the upper hand in depth has been a major factor in UConn’s ability to pull away late. Opposing teams get fatigued while the Huskies stay fresh and relentless. However, that will end on Monday. San Diego State has a rotation that can go blow-for-blow with UConn.
We will constantly hear how the Aztecs stand no chance. This could close as the largest point spread since North Carolina was favored by 7½ points against Michigan State in the 2009 National Championship.
However, defense, guard play and depth give San Diego State a fighting chance. NCAA odds have the Aztecs at +320 on the moneyline. Will San Diego State become the first team West of Texas to win the national title since Arizona in 1997?