A few years ago the San Diego State Aztecs were ready to carry a 30-2 record into the NCAA Tournament. And they would be given a perfectly reasonable chance to win the title. But because of the pandemic, they were not able to pursue that dream. But now they are in a position to move into the winner’s circle for the very first time. They will take on the UConn Huskies for the title at 8:30 PM ET on Monday at NRG Stadium in Houston.
We’ll try to explain to you why they could win.
Here are the numbers.
In the NCAA Championship odds that have been posted at this title game at BetOnline, the Huskies are favored rather decisively:
San Diego State Aztecs vs. UConn Huskies Betting Info
|Date:||Monday, April 3rd, 2023|
|Time:||9:20 p.m. ET|
|Location:||NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas|
San Diego State vs. UConn Odds
San Diego State
|+7½ ( -110 )||132½ ( -110 )||+295|
|-7½ ( -110 )||132½ ( -110 )||-370|
The defensive culture
It’s been the same for a while with the Aztecs. They are simply one of the best defensive teams in the nation. That hasn’t stopped with the transition from Steve Fisher to Brian Dutcher. It is the same story for all the recruits, whether they are coming out of high school or junior college. Dutcher says “If you’re not about defense, this is not the program for you.” Indeed, over the last four seasons, this team has ranked 19, 21, 2, and 4 in the category of Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
Florida Atlantic made nine of 22 three-point shots in the semi-final game. But prior to that, the Aztecs had been stopping teams cold from a long distance. In those first four games, SDSU allowed 19% triples. They contest all those three-pointers, to the point where they yield just 28% for the season. We’re not sure UConn is sharp enough from the outside to make a living against this opponent.
Matt Bradley is back
Matt Bradley is a 6-4 guard who has been considered to be the most dependable scorer the Aztecs have. But it had not been that way in the two previous games, as he had tallied only eight points. And he had made just six field goals in his last 27 attempts. Against FAU, he came back to life, with 21 points, which included four triples.
Bradley transferred from California, where he had been named All-Pac 12 twice. As a fifth-year senior, he brings the needed experience to the table. If he is on his game, SDSU will have a great chance to win this game.
Pace shouldn’t be a problem
The Huskies aren’t exactly a go-go team when it has the ball in its hands. And that suits SDSU just fine. Brian Dutcher’s team does not allow opponents to get shots up quickly. In fact, the average possession length for opponents is longer than all but 17 teams in the country (of 363 teams).
We’ve got to believe that the Aztecs would like to reduce the number of possessions in this game. That will give them the best chance to win. And incidentally, when you’re looking at totals, SDSU has played under in twelve of their last 13 games.
Bench strength works to their advantage
SDSU has the opportunity to bring in people off the bench who can genuinely contribute. Whereas they don’t have a lot of size in the starting lineup, they have size on the bench. Nathan Mensah, a 6-10 forward, does indeed sometimes make his way into the starting lineup. He is 14th in the nation in blocked shot percentage. And that means he may have a shot to deal with UConn’s big guys.
Then there is Jaedon LeDee, 6-9 and bulky, who was a force to be reckoned with in the semifinals. LeDee played only 14 minutes against Florida Atlantic, but they were impactful. He scored twelve points and pulled down six rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end.
Dutcher is quite prepared to go to his bench. The Aztecs ranked 32nd among 363 Division I teams in terms of distribution of bench minutes, according to the analytics site KenPom.
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