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March Madness: Getting Ready for the Grand Finale

UConn Holding Steady as Firm Favorite in NCAA Title Game

The college basketball season comes down to a matchup between the UConn Huskies and San Diego State Aztecs.

Coming into the tournament, UConn (+2500) was tied for the 10th-best odds to win the national title. San Diego State (+10000) was tied for 27th according to the March Madness predictions.

Nahiem Alleyne #4 of the Connecticut Huskies
Nahiem Alleyne #4 of the Connecticut Huskies | Carmen mandato/getty images/afp

UConn is going after its fifth national title with Dan Hurley trying to join three-time winner Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie as national championship men’s coaches for the Huskies. UConn has won every game in the tournament by double digits. With a win, only UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina will have more men’s Division I national titles than UConn.

Since the tournament field began to be seeded in 1979, UConn is the eighth team to reach the national championship game by posting all double-digit victories. The 2016 North Carolina squad is the only one to lose in the title game.

San Diego State is playing in the national title game for the first time. However, head coach Brian Dutcher was part of the title-winning staff at Michigan in 1989 and two other trips to the championship game.

The game is set to tip at 9:20 p.m. ET and will air on CBS. Plenty of those making March Madness expert picks are going with UConn as a 7½-point favorite, the highest number since North Carolina was also favored by 7½ points heading into the 2009 final against Michigan State. The Tar Heels covered with the 89-72 win.

Here are five keys to the game for those who bet online to consider.

All Hands on Deck

Both San Diego State and UConn are in pretty good shape from an injury standpoint.

UConn’s second-leading scorer, Jordan Hawkins, was dealing with an illness that he said was brought in by eating calamari. Hawkins played 26 minutes in a win over Miami in the national semifinals.

UConn is 8-2 in the last 10 games when Hawkins plays at least 30 minutes so those making March Madness picks need to keep that in mind.

The Huskies have nine players who average more than 10 minutes per game and they have combined to miss a total of nine games this season.

San Diego State has played without Miles Byrd since a Dec. 20 win over San Diego. The other nine players who average at least 10 minutes per game have missed a total of five games.

Hitting the Glass

One of the biggest factors in San Diego State’s comeback from 14 points down to beat Florida Atlantic in the semifinals was the Aztecs pulling down seven offensive rebounds in a span of just over two minutes.

It might be hard to duplicate that feat against UConn.

The Huskies have won the rebounding battle in each of their first five NCAA Tournament games and are +54 in rebounding margin in the tournament. Arkansas did manage to get the 16-11 edge in offensive rebounds against UConn. However, the Huskies are +6 in offensive rebounding differential in the tournament.

It is safe to say that UConn’s coaching staff showed the Huskies the footage of the Aztecs keeping their season alive by extending possessions.

Men in the Middle

It was really not a contest when UConn’s Adama Sanogo matched up with Miami center Norchad Omier in the national semifinals.

It will be imperative that San Diego State‘s Nathan Mensah brings more to the court than Omier did.

One major difference is that Omier never appeared in an NCAA Tournament game before this season. Mensah is a fifth-year senior taking part in his third NCAA Tournament.

Mensah did pick up four fouls in the semifinal win over Florida Atlantic. The Aztecs can’t afford to have Mensah sitting on the bench due to early foul trouble.

Nobody is asking Mensah, who is averaging 5.4 points and 6.6 rebounds, to outscore Sanogo (20.2 points, 9.8 rebounds). But if he can keep Sanogo from dominating, it will enable the Aztecs to have a better chance to defend the Huskies on the perimeter.

Sanogo has three double-doubles in the NCAA Tournament as he has a chance to etch his name into UConn March Madness folklore.

One Shining Moment

This is the stage when the best players need to play like the best players.

UConn’s Sanogo and Hawkins are listed as the two favorites to win the Most Outstanding Player award for good reason.

Sanogo is a force inside, but he also made a couple of early 3-pointers that changed how the game against Miami played out.

Hawkins is an elite 3-point shooter. He has done much of his damage in the second half of March Madness games.

San Diego State’s Matt Bradley got off to a blistering start in the semifinal game against Florida Atlantic. After making four of San Diego State’s first five baskets, including three 3-pointers, Bradley went nearly 16 minutes before making his next field goal.

If a drought like that happens in this game, that might be too much for San Diego State to overcome.

This is a gambling site so it would be pretty hard to break down this game without looking at some betting trends.

UConn has covered against the college basketball odds in 26 games this season, more than any other Division I men’s basketball team. The 26-11-1 mark is second percentage-wise only to Utah Valley State.

The Huskies have covered in all five tournament games and in 11 of their last 12 contests.

San Diego State is 19-16-2 against the spread and 15-22 against the total.

San Diego State had covered in six games in a row, dating back to the Mountain West tournament, before failing to cover as a 2½-point favorite against Florida Atlantic. That game also ended a run of 12 straight games played by the Aztecs that went under the Las Vegas odds total.

UConn is 29-7 when listed as a favorite this season with San Diego State 3-2 as the underdog.

For the history buffs out there: In each of the last five times that a team was favored by at least five points in the title game, the favorite won the game and covered in four of those four contests.

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