San Diego State is one of the final two teams standing in college basketball, but the Aztecs’ toughest matchup is their last matchup. On Monday night in Houston, either UConn will win their fifth championship in the last 24 years, or a team from outside of the power conferences will win a championship for the first time in over 30 years.
The Aztecs are now carrying the banner for all mid-majors after knocking off Florida Atlantic Saturday night on Lamont Butler’s buzzer-beater.
SAN DIEGO STATE WILL PLAY FOR THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP pic.twitter.com/5NWXWvl138— CBS Sports College Basketball (@CBSSportsCBB) April 2, 2023
San Diego State is one of the very few teams in the country that can match Connecticut’s depth. While the Huskies rank 224th nationally in bench minutes, the minutes that they do get from those bench players are always elite, and they show little dropoff from one through nine in their rotation. SDSU similarly has a nine-man rotation with little dropoff from top to bottom, but the Aztecs deploy their bench significantly more than UConn and rank 32nd.
This is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that arguably SDSU’s two best players were not even on the court for the final seconds against FAU, and Brian Dutcher felt comfortable enough to not call a timeout and let his guys ride it out.
While Adam Seiko hasn’t had a great tournament, his ability to shoot the triple off the bench is something that can be a key for the Aztecs in the biggest game of all.
Aguek Arop, Micah Parrish and Jaedon LeDee all come off the bench, but would start on most teams in the country, showing an element to UConn that they haven’t seen yet in this tournament. The Huskies haven’t faced a team with a bench ranking higher than 291st in bench minutes over the course of this entire tournament.
The Huskies have worn teams down with how deep they are and deliver knockout blows to thinner teams with shooting and power late in games, but it’s going to be a lot harder to come by against SDSU.
Adama Sanogo might be the strongest man in college basketball, but LeDee and Nathan Mensah aren’t far behind. Sanogo’s success in this tournament has come against bigs who aren’t as physically strong as the SDSU big men.
While Miami’s Norchad Omier is pound-for-pound one of the strongest players in the country, he doesn’t quite match the size that LeDee and Mensah will show to Sanogo. Both are high-level defenders and rebounders.
San Diego State, like UConn, is athletic one through nine in the rotation, and that’s a huge key for games like this. UConn loves to run open shooters up with off-ball screens, but SDSU significantly better suited to that type of game than anybody else that UConn has seen in the tournament so far.
The Huskies have torched the net throughout the tournament but might be due for a poor shooting night, so don’t be shocked if this game is played closer to San Diego State’s preferred score than UConn’s.
Keys for SDSU
“Our number one opponent is ourselves,” Dutcher said.
SDSU needs to play at its highest level in order to win this game, and that means no dumb fouls, no dumb turnovers, making free throws and keeping the game at its pace.
Not just that, but they’ll need their 3-point shooting to carry over from Saturday night, where they shot 9-for-18 from deep. Matt Bradley’s shotmaking was excellent after a disappointing two-point outing in the regional final.
The Aztecs cannot let themselves get down early. because UConn has run away from its opponents.
When Miami cut the margin to single digits on Saturday, UConn called some long developing plays that took the shot clock way down, taking the air out of the ball, and then getting offensive rebounds.
UConn is fantastic on the boards and hasn’t been out-rebounded since January. SDSU was able to stay in the game against FAU with its offensive rebounding.
Unfortunately for all mid-major fans, I think UConn will pull it out and win this game. San Diego State essentially needs to put on their best possible performance in order to win it, and even then, the Huskies can still top that. I know I’m sounding like the writers from before the 1985 title game between Georgetown and Villanova, and while this is much less improbable than that, it’s still an extremely tall task for the Aztecs.