Purdue vs UConn in national championship


Remember how Purdue basketball was everyone’s choice to beat NC State in the national semifinals? The Boilermakers are on the other side of the equation for the national championship game.

Purdue is a 6.5-point underdog against Connecticut on Monday night. UConn has won all its NCAA Tournament games by double digits, while the Boilers have been challenged more along the way.

Here’s why UConn gets nod in these picks.

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Play like it did offensively against North Carolina State in the Final Four and Purdue will get run out of the building.

Braden Smith won’t have a half as bad as he did Saturday night. Maybe ever again. It’ll take a near flawless effort from Purdue. But this game was the one it eyed all year.

At this point, why not?

Myron Medcalf, UConn 79-73: Dan Hurley’s team is playing in a different dimension right now. He has a seven-man rotation Purdue can’t match. The Huskies have defensive fortitude that can slow Zach Edey and Purdue down. And their offensive firepower means the shots come from all angles. You have to be flawless against UConn to win right now, and the Huskies won’t allow that.

Josh Weinfuss, Purdue 74-72: Oh, how this pains me to write. I hope my fellow Hoosiers won’t disown me, but I’m going with Purdue. I want to see Edey win on behalf of all bigs, to show that teams can still win with true centers. He has the talent to put the Boilers on his back and carry them to the championship, especially with his ability to stay out of foul trouble while hitting free throws.

John Gasaway, UConn 79-75: UConn is too much, even for Edey and Purdue. At least now we know a close game is possible with the Huskies. Alabama proved that for much of the evening before losing by 14. The Boilermakers will keep it close, and you can put Edey down right now for a double-double with 20-something points, even against Clingan. But UConn’s constant motion on offense wears down opponents, and this team’s last 11 NCAA tournament games do suggest a pattern.

Jeff Borzello, UConn 77-71: UConn is the most dominant college basketball team I’ve seen in some time. Clingan can make life difficult for Edey, and if Castle is tasked with defending Smith, I worry how effective Purdue will be getting into its offense. UConn also simply has more shot-makers on the perimeter. Its two best players have been Newton and Spencer, and they’ve barely been mentioned in this conversation. That just shows how deep and versatile and relentless the Huskies are. Hurley and the Huskies are going back-to-back.

Why? For starters, I’ve picked the Boilermakers at the beginning of the season and in the middle of the season, and I don’t plan to change now. This isn’t merely a push for a title; this is an all-out quest, and has been since that loss to Fairleigh Dickinson. Things have to happen to make this right; namely, the Boilermakers can’t play as sloppily as they did against NC State, and they have to hit their 3s. But presuming that happens — and the law of averages says Purdue can’t cough it up like that again (right?) — the Zach Edey experience is the differentiator. I get Donovan Clingan. He’s an incredibly talented big man. He’s not Edey.

(Note: The rest of The Athletic’s lineup goes with UConn.)

The Huskies are one game away from being considered one of the greatest teams with one of the most impressive runs in college basketball over the past 50 years. I’m siding with that. I’m riding with the team that has refused to find a close game in the past 11 NCAA Tournament matchups that it’s been presented. On Saturday, its starters all scored 12+ points, the first time that had happened in a national semifinal since Duke in 1994. UConn keeps producing stats and putting on performances that reinforce just how absurdly abnormal all of this is. Zach Edey needs to get close to 30 points and 15+ rebounds, and that alone will not get it done. The line wasn’t as high as it should have been. On Monday, for the 12th time in a row, UConn will win a tournament game by double digits (but Purdue will get it closer than the other 11).

A high-scoring affair seems like a given in this year’s national championship. UConn has the top adjusted offensive efficiency in KenPom with Purdue holding the No. 3 adjusted offensive efficiency.

The Huskies and Boilermakers have arguably been the two best teams this season, and it’s only fitting the two teams meet in the national championship.

The rebounding battle will be a focus, and it will be a team effort for the Huskies against the Boilermakers. That is their biggest question with Edey in the middle. For Purdue, it is about not letting UConn get on the game-changing runs that doomed Illinois and Alabama in the last two rounds. How will Edey alter the UConn offense? It might take the Huskies a little longer to settle in, but they will make the right adjustments at halftime.

It’ll be a terrific back-and-forth fight, but UConn will once again be sneaky. Just when everyone thinks its close – last year’s national title blowout over San Diego State got tighter than anyone remembers – that’s when the consistency kicks in.

Relentless. UConn will be just that one more time.


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