NCAA Finals: The Unlikely Rise of San Diego State and the Resurgence of UConn
The NCAA Tournament has been nothing short of thrilling this year, and the men's Final Four games on Saturday were no exception. We saw two teams with very different journeys to the championship game, San Diego State and UConn, battle it out in their respective games, and it's safe to say that each game was a microcosm of the tournament experience for these teams.
First up was San Diego State, a team that has never quit and has fought hard for every single win in the tournament. They had a nail-biting game against Florida Atlantic, where they didn't lead in the second half until the final buzzer. Lamont Butler, who had only made two field goals all game, stepped up and hit a clutch jump shot as time expired to give SDSU the 72-71 win. This victory was huge for the Aztecs, who had never made it past the Sweet 16 before this year. It was also a historic moment for the Mountain West, which had never had a team make it to the Final Four. What's more, SDSU doesn't boast a single top-100 recruit, making their success even more remarkable.
Looking ahead, San Diego State's future is just as interesting as their present. In early March, The Athletic reported that the Pac-12 hadn't yet reached a consensus about inviting the Aztecs to join the conference. With this impressive run to the championship game, can the conference retroactively claim SDSU?
Next up was UConn, a team that has seemingly been unstoppable in this tournament. The Huskies never trailed in their game against Miami, winning 72-59, their fifth straight win by double digits. This victory also marked their sixth consecutive win by 10 or more points, putting them in elite company. Only five other teams in the 64-team tournament era have won every game by 10 or more points en route to the championship game, and four of those teams went on to win the title.
UConn's non-conference record is equally impressive, with a 16-0 record and an average margin of victory of 24.7 points. They are no strangers to the championship game, having won four titles since 1999. However, the Huskies haven't been on this stage in nine years, and a lot has changed since then.
While UConn's 2014 title doesn't feel that long ago, it's been an eternity for those in the program now. Jordan Hawkins, a UConn scholarship recipient, said, "To him, UConn was like the Dukes and the North Carolinas. I didn't know all that." The Huskies are now just 40 minutes away from joining that company once again, in a huge way.
As we look ahead to Monday's championship game between San Diego State and UConn, it's hard not to pick UConn as the winner. However, we hope that the game isn't a repeat of the 1986 Georgia-TCU game, which was a 54-51 snoozer. Regardless of the outcome, this year's NCAA Tournament has been one for the ages, and we can't wait to see how it all ends.