For a tournament which has seen 15 upsets over the past month, the two NCAAB Championship semi-finals went according to plan.
However, that flurry of early upsets means that this year’s championship game is between two teams who aren’t even in the top three seeds in their own regionals.
San Diego State won the South Regional as the 5-seed, while Connecticut triumphed in the west from the 4-seed.
In the overall tournament ranking, UConn were 13th, while SDSU were 17th. While that means we’re seeing a finale without the tournament’s top-tier talent, this is a championship game worthy of the thrills which have come before.
While Connecticut will be out to press their case as the best team left standing, San Diego State will be hoping there’s one final twist in the tale.
|What||San Diego State @ Connecticut|
|Where||NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas|
|When||02:20, Tuesday 4th April 2023|
|How to watch||BT Sport1|
|Odds||San Diego State 14/5, Connecticut 5/18|
Recent years have seen the NCAAB Championship dominated by the top seeds, with each of the last five winners seeded first in their regionals. No team seeded below second has won the title since 2014 - when UConn claimed their fourth title.
Since 2000, only six teams have won a national title without being the 1-seed and half of those were won by Connecticut. They made their first championship game in 1999 and haven’t looked back since, winning every time they’ve made it this far.
After a dominant run through the tournament, UConn are 5/18 to add to that perfect run with another title.
The 30-8 favourites have won a season-high 19 games by a 15-point margin or greater this term. Given that, their -7.5 handicap on the Spread will tempt many at 10/11. However, their opponents have just shown that they’ll fight to the end.
San Diego State had never previously made the last four at this tournament, so heading into their semi-final against 9-seed Florida Atlantic was a huge moment.
The program had only twice made the last-16 before this season, so the buzzer beater which sent them to the championship game should go down in school history.
Lamont Butler caught out an impressive defensive setup from FAU at the last breath, securing a 72-71 win having trailed by 14 at one stage.
The worry for SDSU is their slow start, where they allowed FAU to score six of their first 12 three-point attempts. They eventually got a handle on things at the perimeter, restricting their opponents to just three made threes from their final 10 shots.
That’s more in line with what we expect to see from San Diego State. They went into the last four having restricted their opponents to making just 17% of their three-point attempts.
Keeping the favourites quiet in that department could be crucial, with UConn shooting at 35% for the season.
SDSU can’t afford another slow start in the title decider, as they won’t get another path back. Connecticut had basically wrapped up their win over 5-seed Miami by the break in the last round.
They were up by 13 at the half in what turned out to be a 72-59 victory.
However, UConn have typically played their best stuff in the second half. They are up 67 points across five second halves at the tournament, with their 35 points after the break against Miami their lowest total of the tournament.
If SDSU make a slow start or allow themselves to get punished from three early on, then this one is likely to be over as a contest.
However, they could benefit from the fact that UConn have conceded at least 29 points in four of their five first halves. SDSU are 20/23 to hit that mark by the break in the championship game.
The other factor which SDSU need to consider is Adama Sanogo, who is something of a lucky charm for UConn on top of being their standout player.
The Malian junior hit two early threes in the clash with Miami and that must have eased any fears UConn fans had, given the forward’s stellar record.
Connecticut have a perfect 20-0 record in games where Sanogo has scored at least 20 points. That continued in the last round, where he recorded a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Sanogo is the go-to man for player props in this one having broken the 100-point mark at the tournament.
Given his early influence in the last round, UConn will surely look to him, especially given how adept SDSU should be at stopping Connecticut’s three-point specialist Jordan Hawkins.