March Madness is among the biggest sporting events in the country. Despite the talk of rating dips in this season’s event, UConn was able to run through the NCAA Tournament in dominating fashion. The Huskies won their fifth national championship on Monday night with a 76 – 59 win over San Diego State.
Even with an eight-loss season and a fourth-place finish in the Big East, during their run in March (and April), UConn looked to be as complete a team as one could have. They won all six of their NCAA Tournament games by double figures.
San Diego State had to grind it out to make its appearance in the NCAA Tournament Finals. The Aztecs rode a nine-game win streak into Monday night’s national championship, carrying momentum from a Mountain West Tournament title. Only one game San Diego State won in the tournament was by double figures, their second-round win over Furman. Both their Elite Eight and Final Four wins were won by a single point.
Let’s go through what we can ultimately take away from this big time.
Bigs are back
For so long, many said you win with guards in the tournament. While there is still truth in that statement, this season showed that you have to have a sturdy interior presence to make a run.
Each team who made a run to the Final Four had a big man, or a depth of big men, who could control the paint. UConn’s Adama Sanogo was the MVP of the Final Four. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound center averaged 19.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks during the NCAA Tournament. Even while they are winning games in the 70s, the Huskies were able to play through Sanogo throughout their six-game run.
During each game in the Final Four, the team that won the rebounding battle won the game.
Shot-making plays a major role
While bigs are making a comeback, shot-making will never go away. Players who are able to create opportunities and players who can put the ball in the basket will always have a role in winning basketball games at the highest levels.
Even with all the talk of San Diego State’s defense and toughness, UConn shot 43 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three in the win. Heading into the National Championship game, as a team, UConn shot 50-124 (40.3%) from three and assisted on 101-of-148 made field goals in the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies were able to make shots and create opportunities from multiple spots on the floor. And they had two dominating big men, Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan, who could take advantage of one-on-one opportunities in the paint and move the ball when help came. UConn sophomore Jordan Hawkins was 21-42 (50%) from three in the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies won every game in the tournament by double figures.
These teams recruited the portal to enhance their lineups
Both UConn and San Diego State started transfers and played multiple transfers in their rotation. Starting UConn point guard Tristen Newton came to Storrs this offseason after starting for multiple years at East Carolina. San Diego State’s two leading scorers, Matt Bradley and Darrion Trammell, came from Cal-Berkley and Seattle, respectively.
San Diego State played a four-man bench, two of which transferred into the program. UConn also played a four-man bench, three of which transferred into the program.
This game was not void of transfers…
…however, both teams built their core by developing high school recruits
Seven players who started in the national championship game were recruited to either San Diego State or UConn out of high school. All seven of those players have been with their respective programs for multiple seasons.
Two players off San Diego State’s bench came to the program out of high school. Donovan Clingan, the only true freshman in either team’s rotation, committed to UConn out of high school.
Both teams were experienced. Coming into the national championship game, the ten starters combined for 815 career starts. Every starter in the game has been in college for multiple years. However, most of the starters (7-of-10) and most of the players in the rotation (10-of-17) were recruited to their respective programs out of high school.
NBA talent helps, but it is not necessarily what wins in college
We just watched one of the more dominating runs through an NCAA Tournament in recent memory. A quick look across the UConn and San Diego State rosters and you do not see any players who are universally expected to be lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft.
While UConn guard Jordan Hawkins is being talked about as a mid-first-round pick in June, if you pull back a round to the Final Four and add the Miami and Florida Atlantic rosters to the conversation, Hawkins remains the only player in the conversation expected to go in the first round right now (we will see what happens with Donovan Clingan).
What each of the rosters in the Final Four has are experience and toughness. UConn’s Donovan Clingan is the only true freshman (Alex Karaban enrolled second semester of last year and redshirted) in either San Diego State’s or UConn’s rotation. Between the two programs, the 10 starters have a combined 815 starts. They have all been in college for multiple years, and they all played roles on their teams while in college.