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UConn Men's Basketball

Game Day: A heavyweight fight for the belt

April 8, 2024
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The final college basketball game of the season takes place tonight at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, a place where multiple NFL and college football champions have been crowned.

On this night, the UConn Huskies are not just playing for a championship but for a spot in the history books. They’re looking to repeat as national champions for the first time since 2007. They’ve won 11 straight NCAA Tournament games by 13 points or more. 

The Huskies aren’t just winning. They’re writing new chapters of dominance.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2024; Glendale, AZ, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard Tristen Newton (2) grabs the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half in the semifinals of the men's Final Four of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at State Farm Stadium.

Tonight’s opponent, Purdue, suffered a much different fate in the 2023 tournament, losing as a 1-seed to 16-seed Farleigh Dickinson. The Boilermakers persevered to come back just as strong this year and put that disappointment in the rear-view mirror. They’re looking to match the feat of another recent champion, Virginia, which won the national championship after becoming the first 1-seed ever to lose in the first round.

“Being able to go through it, feel that, I think helps you get on edge, helps you to be a little sharper,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said.

While making the Final Four represents a breakthrough for his program, which hasn’t been there since 1969 and has suffered multiple recent NCAA Tournament upsets, their next opponent is unlike any other in the country.

“They understand we haven't played anybody like UConn. They're not fools. We have cable where we're from,” Painter said. “We're very familiar.”

UConn head coach Dan Hurley sees a Purdue team that is shaper and has improved on previous weaknesses.

“The blind spot for them last year was subpar three-point shooting, which allowed you to surround [Zach Edey], whereas now if you put two on the ball with him, you're now turning loose a team that's shooting 40% from three,” Hurley said. 

The concern will be Edey’s ability to draw fouls and potentially take Clingan out of the game, if not at least neutralize the advantage.

“I don't think that one thing is going to work in the game. I think you've got to try to keep him off balance,” Hurley said. “You may coach or play your whole career and never coach or play against somebody of his stature. Truly a giant player.”

The two giant stars facing off will be the matchup to watch tonight.

“It's a unique matchup,” Hurley said. “[Clingan has] played against some outstanding centers in Soriano and Kalkbrenner. But this is a different animal and they use him in a much, much different way.”

Despite being back in the Final Four, Hurley claims the second time is just as meaningful as the first, and that he and his staff have worked hard to keep them motivated for new forms of success in 2024.

“For a lot of the year we've used the external slights, the perceived slights,” he explained. “I think that gets you through the regular season, Big East grind, January, February, where the team's tired and you've got to create these different things.”

As always, any team can win on a given night, especially in the NCAA Tournament. But UConn has gone through great trouble to make itself “bulletproof” in tourney play as Hurley likes to say. He’s counting on the identity and makeup of the team to finish the job.

“Once you get to this time of year, everything is just you are who your identity is. The way you play, it's very automatic. It just comes down to hoping that it's your night.”

 


 

Purdue Preview

TV: TBS/TNT/TruTV and Max

Radio: UConn Sports Network

Odds: UConn -7, over/under 145.5 (Odds via DraftKings)

Location: State Farm Stadium — Glendale, Arizona

KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, Purdue 72 (60 percent win probability)

© Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK
North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Casey Morsell (14) defends Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith (3) during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Final Four game, Saturday, April 6, 2024, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

We have two great articles for Storrs Central subscribers from our preview guru Brian Kervick. He went deep on a Scouting Report for Purdue and also wrote up a Film & Matchup Preview this morning. Subscribe to read in full!

While the Edey-Clingan matchup consumes the headlines, but the game may be decided by what the sub-7-footers will be doing on the court. The way UConn’s guards and wings attack the rest of the court and defend non-Edey players should make the difference in the game, as the Huskies have a big advantage when evaluating the “supporting cast” of the two teams for their respective big men.

Purdue is ranked third in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency, sitting second overall in KenPom behind UConn. The Boilermakers have developed into an elite shooting and rebounding team that’s also good at getting to the free-throw line. Alabama’s explosiveness and physicality tested UConn on Saturday. On Monday night, the Huskies can expect a more well-rounded approach.

With a lot of attention on the big fellas, Cam Spencer, Alex Karaban, Steph Castle, and Tristen Newton are all candidates to have huge games. We could even see two of them stand out with 15 or 20. Newton was the leading scorer in last year’s national championship game and Castle led the Huskies with 21 points in Saturday’s semifinal game. 

Balance and depth have served UConn well throughout the regular season and NCAA Tournament, and it should be their biggest advantage tonight.

 
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