Apr 6, 2024; Glendale, AZ, USA; Connecticut Huskies players including Alex Karaban (11) and Samson Johnson (35) celebrate against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the semifinals of the men's Final Four of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen/Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

UConn Faces Purdue in Heavy-Weight Final

The UConn Huskies will square off with the Purdue Boilermakers in the Men’s College Basketball National Championship on Monday night. The Huskies are looking to repeat as national champions after a dominant tournament run, while Purdue hopes to dethrone the reigning champs.

An Expected Meeting

No national championship matchup is predictable, but this is as close as it gets.

Both UConn and Purdue entered the season with lofty expectations, each being ranked in the top six of the preseason AP Poll. The Huskies were coming off a National Championship win in head coach Dan Hurley’s fifth season with the team. UConn dominated everyone in its path en route to that championship, winning every tournament game by at least 13 points.

Purdue’s tournament last season was a little different. With a 63-58 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round, Purdue became the second one-seed to lose to a 16-seed ever. In response to the rattling loss, Purdue brought back a vast amount of its production for the 2023–24 season.

Both Purdue and UConn handled the high expectations for this season well. Neither dropped out of the top three in the AP Poll since January 15, with both being considered locks as one seeds since February.

Mass Replacements

After reaching the peak of college basketball, UConn experienced a harsh roster turnover. Entering this season, UConn had to replace three starters from the championship team, with only one returning double-digit scorer. Hurley turned to a combination of freshmen and transfers.

Five-star freshman Stephon Castle was named Big East Freshman of the Year after a stellar season in which he averaged 11 points per game. The most notable addition, though, would be senior guard Cam Spencer. Spencer transferred in from Rutgers after having spent time at Loyola-Marymount, and was immediately a star.

“He’s sick,” Hurley explained. “Everybody in this program values Cam and loves Cam.”

Spencer sprung onto the scene, scoring double-digits in six of his first seven games with the team. Since then, he’s remained a steady scoring presence, being named First-Team All-Big East for his efforts.

Joining Spencer on the Big East all-conference team was guard Tristen Newton. Arguably the most important player on the UConn roster, Newton started on the Huskies championship team last year but took a big leap this season. Newton averaged 10.1 points per game in his first season with the Huskies, but jumped to 14.9 this year. Recently, Newton won the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the nation’s top D-I point guard.

UConn’s strong season has been based around the performance of newcomers and returning veterans taking on larger roles. The Huskies have continued their tournament dominance from last season, winning each of their five tournament games this year by at least 14 points.

Boilermakers Looking for Revenge

After getting knocked out of the NCAA tournament in historic fashion last year, Purdue brought back the majority of its roster. At the center of Purdue’s returning production is Zach Edey. Edey won the Naismith National Player of the Year award last year while leading Purdue to a one-seed. He did the same again this year, becoming the first player since 1983 to repeat winning the pinnacle award. Edey dominates in the paint, scoring 24.9 points per game and 12.2 boards.

A lot of Purdue’s success this season has come from the shooters that surround Edey, though. Sophomore guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith have each shot 44.7% and 43% from three, respectively, while forward Mason Gillis is shooting at a 47.3% clip. While these numbers are impressive by themselves, what’s more impressive is the jump each player has taken. All three shot below 37.6% from beyond the arc last season.

Purdue’s shooting, combined with Edey’s work on the inside, has helped the Boilermakers get over their recent tournament struggles and make their way to the final.

Bright Lights in Phoenix

When the Boilermakers face the Huskies on Monday night, it won’t be a surprising matchup, but it should entertain. The two teams both rank in the top three in adjusted offensive efficiency and currently rate as the top two teams in KenPom.

Whoever wins this offensive matchup will likely come down to which team can slow down the other’s key scorers.

UConn will look for center Donovan Clingan to hold Edey in check while the rest of the lineup defends the Boilermakers’ shooting threats. If the Huskies have to start sending multiple players to Edey, it may become a long night for the UConn faithful.

On the other side, Purdue will need to hold UConn’s scorers around the perimeter. Beyond Spencer and forward Alex Karaban, none of UConn’s other notable offensive threats shoot above 35.3% from three.

So, as the Huskies and Boilermakers make their way into State Farm Stadium Monday night, they will each set out with the same goal, but each having taken different paths to get there.

UConn and Purdue are set to tip off in the National Championship at 9:20 P.M., with live coverage starting on ESPN 98.1 FM – 850 AM WRUF following the conclusion of Florida Gators softball.

About Noah White

I'm a freshman at the University of Florida, majoring in journalism and public relations. I enjoy playing soccer and volleyball with friends, watching movies with my girlfriend and, of course, writing. I also know more about Liberty League women's soccer than you do.

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