Oddsmakers generally defer to predictive computer metrics to set betting lines for college basketball games. Respected metric Kenpom.com, which ranks Connecticut as the No. 1 team in the nation, projects the Huskies to beat San Diego State by five points, 69-64, in Monday night’s NCAA championship game at 72,000-seat NRG Stadium.
Home line: UConn minus 6 points.
Within minutes, so much money was being bet against the Huskies that it went to 6.5 points. And then 7. And now 7.5.
If it gets to 8, and it certainly is the trend, the Aztecs would be the biggest underdog in an NCAA final since 1999.
The eye test is no deterrent. The Huskies won the championship by 24, 15, 23, 28 and 13. 23 was against an Arkansas team that had just knocked off No. 1 and defending national champion Kansas. As the media filed into the Aztecs’ locker room interview session Sunday afternoon, one of the assistant coaches was sitting in the hallway watching film of UConn’s Elite Eight game against Gonzaga. The video paused in the second half. Score: 77-45.
Miami, which has two NBA picks and knocked off second-seeded Texas in the Elite Eight, was down 20 in Saturday’s other semifinal.
The Aztecs? It had 11 turnovers in the first half and it took clutch touchdowns from Matt Bradley and Micah Parrish to hold Charleston in the opening game. Came from down nine in 12 minutes to beat Alabama. He got a controversial whistle and free throws with 1.2 seconds left to beat Creighton. Trailed by 14 in the entire second half against Florida Atlantic and won on Lamont Butler’s buzzer beater.
UConn: Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson Jr. and 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan three and possibly four picks in the NBA draft.
San Diego State: Not currently available.
UConn: $24 million annual men’s basketball budget, charters, NIL, high-profile recruiting, the works.
San Diego State: $7.2 million budget, commercial, minimal NIL, under-the-radar hires, humility, work ethic.
UConn: Four national titles and most of any program since 1999.
San Diego State: Zero NCAA Tournament wins prior to 2011, zero against top seeds until last week.
One caveat, the only qualifier, yes, but…
Question these Aztecs at your peril.
San Diego State’s Lamont Butler (5) celebrates with teammates after making the game-winning shot to beat Florida Atlantic 72-71 in the Final Four.
(KC Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
They are old, they are deep, they are strong, they are durable, they are reliable. They look good on foot for 30 or 35 minutes, but then you look at the scoreboard and they’re still hanging on and… wait… have they taken the lead?
On Saturday, they got burned defensively in the first half and were 4 of 12 from the free throw line in the final seven minutes. And win It was the first buzzer-beater in Final Four history for a team trailing, undefeated.
“Whether we’re making shots or missing shots, we’re going to stick to the game plan of what we’ve been doing throughout March,” Bradley said. “We haven’t shot the ball well, but we’ve been good at winning games.”
So that might be the best option. Save the game. hang on Give the Huskies a false sense of security. Watch as the pressure of expectation builds exponentially on the prohibitive favorites as the tight game enters its final minutes.
Against Alabama, he blew a nine-point lead after 12 minutes, looked like it was over, and collapsed.
Can it work against the four-time national champions?
“They haven’t had to worry about close games so far (in the tournament),” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “So I hope they give it one, and we’ll see what they do in a tight game. They have been wonderful. They ran across the field.”
The Huskies look waterproof right now. This has not been the case all season, however.
Aztecs forward Aguek Arop is fouled by Florida Atlantic center Vladislav Goldin in the second half of Saturday’s game.
(KC Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
A 14-0 start with wins over Alabama, Iowa State and Oregon earned him a No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press poll. But then they were almost completely relegated, dropping to 24th after six losses in eight games in January. Since then, they are 14-2 with three losses to Creighton and two losses to Marquette in the Big East tournament.
“We’re going to try to shake off that favorite tag,” coach Dan Hurley said. “I think what we experienced in January helps us a lot. We know that if we deviate from our identity because of a dog, we become very vulnerable.
“With the experience and the physicality and the age and how well-coached the San Diego State team is, and the teams they’ve beaten to get here, we’re expecting a much different type of game, a lot more fight.”
For Dutcher, there are hurdles beyond defending the shifty Hawkins and the 6-9, 245-pound Sanogo. They have to guard against human nature, the natural fallibility of the emotional outpouring when Butler’s shot tickled the net and an entire city erupted at home.
In many ways, the Aztecs have already won. They have gone further than any team in school or Mountain West history. The main number 1 was removed. They have captivated a nation with a pair of dramatic last-second wins.
They have long since passed the stage of everything sauce, on top of the cherry.
“That’s it,” said Dutcher. “Now we have a national perception. I think everyone in the west has always known that we are good. But now that we’re playing on the biggest stage, and winning on the biggest stage, just like when Gonzaga took that step, I think they did it nationally. That’s how they got respect.
“We hope that this national stage will give us national respect. I think that’s what he will do.”
The expansion point continues to rise.