Stephen Vilardo’s SDSU National Championship Preview

The Aztecs will meet Connecticut today in search of their first hoops national championship

Posted on April 2, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

The Aztecs just keep winning.

Their streak is now nine straight, the second longest in the nation. Their 14-point comeback win over FAU was the fifth-largest comeback win in Final Four history—both in the semifinals and finals.

The game-winner by Lamont Butler also gave San Deigo State consecutive one-point victories, becoming just the third team in NCAA history to win back-to-back tournament games by a single point.

San Diego State will meet Connecticut today in search of their first national championship on the hardwood and only the second ever for any Aztec athletic program (the other being Men’s Volleyball in 1973).

In the matchup with FAU, San Diego State was paired with a team that was nearly a carbon copy. In UConn, the Aztecs most certainly will not be facing a mirror image.

I preview the matchup here and my game pick appears below.

5-seed San Diego State vs 4-seed UConn

Monday, April 3
6:20 pm PT, CBS

The Huskies spent time ranked No. 1 in the nation this season but have looked like world-beaters during the NCAA Tournament.

Connecticut has won its five games by an average margin of 20.6 points per game while averaging 79.8 points per game.

On the season, UConn is second in the nation with a victory margin of 14.6 points per game.

The Aztecs have won their five games in this tournament by an average of 6.4.

In the National Semifinal, SDSU shot just 59.1% from the free-throw line but managed to get the offensive rebound on many of those misses, especially in the second half.

The Aztecs ended up with 12 offensive rebounds for the game, ending with six more scoring chances than FAU, and logged an offensive rebound rate of 37.5%.

Rebounding will again be key in the championship game as UConn is second in the nation with a total rebound rate of 56.7%.

On the defensive end of the floor, the Huskies are collecting 77.9% of rebounds available, ranking 29th.

San Diego State’s ability to collect extra scoring opportunities will be huge in this one. Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan could both create size problems for the Aztecs.

Huskies’ Adama Sanogo vs Miami | Getty Images via Sporting News

Sanogo ranks 11th in the nation with 26.0 points per 40 minutes while Clingan leads the nation with 17.2 rebounds and is second with 5.6 blocked shots per 40 minutes.

As a team, the Huskies are among the best in the nation at blocking shots. UConn is eighth in the nation with a blocked shot rate of 8.8%.

The Aztecs, meanwhile, have seen 5.1% of their shot attempts get blocked on the season.

San Diego State cannot afford to get down to UConn in this one. The comeback against FAU was impressive and historic. But things are historic for a reason: They don’t happen often.

Coming back against UConn would be an entirely different beast.

The Huskies will want to score, San Diego State will look to defend. While the matchup in the Final Four had similarities, this one will feature contrasting styles.

The Aztecs could hamper UConn’s offense on the other end of the floor just as much as they can when defending. San Diego State will look to dictate the tempo and slow things down.

Aztecs’ Matt Bradley vs FAU | K.C. Alfred /The San Diego Union-Tribune)

That could cause issues for UConn if the game can be played slower than the Huskies would like. Additionally, the harder the Huskies must work on the defensive end of the floor will take that much more out of their tank.

Matt Bradley finally got things going on the offensive end of the floor in the Final Four game, leading the way with 21 points as he knocked down four three-pointers.

It is obvious to say, but San Diego State certainly needs Bradley to remain hot in the final. The Aztecs got 37.5% of their points against FAU off threes, up from the Aztecs’ 28.2% of points on the season from distance.

Only 23.1% of the points Connecticut has allowed this season have come off three-pointers, the fourth-lowest rate in the nation. However, 35.1% of the points scored against them on Saturday night came from deep.

San Diego State will need to make their shots. I foresee many offensive possessions for the Aztecs coming down to the end of the shot clock.

It could be three-pointers and jumpers that decide if the Aztecs can cut down the nets for the first time or if UConn will join the five-time champions club.

Stephen Vilardo’s Game Pick

2022-23 NCAA Championship

Stephen Vilardo

SDSU vs. UConn

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