San Diego State’s X-factor for national championship game vs. UConn, and it’s not Lamont Butler

Heading into 2023 NCAA Tournament finals against UCONN, San Diego State basketball isn’t huge on this whole stars thing. In fact, more than any individual performance by Matt Bradley, Lamont Butler or Darrion Trammell, their entire miraculous run to the national championship game has been predicated on their collective ability to snuff out their opponent’s brightest talents in each game.

In the round of 32, the Aztecs basically ended Jalen Slawson’s candidacy as a true NBA prospect, overwhelming with their size and strength and frustrating him so thoroughly that he became the first player in NCAA Tournament history to rack up six fouls. Against Alabama, San Diego State upset the top-seeded Crimson Tide by hectoring star freshman Brandon Miller into an absolute stinker as he compiled twice as many turnovers (six) as he did made shots (3-19 shooting). To reach the Final Four, they put the screws on Creighton’s super-productive backcourt duo of Trey Alexander and Ryan Nembhard, who combined for just 15 points and three assists.

As such, the question for San Diego State against UCONN isn’t whether their defense can stifle the Huskies (hint: yes, they can and will), but whether they can gin up enough offense to drag themselves over the finish line; it doesn’t matter if San Diego State holds UCONN to 60 points if they themselves can’t muster 61.

Without the benefit of a single, dominant offensive presence, San Diego State has had to score by committee. They’ve had a different leading scorer in each of the last four games, with Micah Parrish, Darrion Trammel, Lamont Butler and Matt Bradley alternately stepping up depending on the matchup.

Ultimately, San Diego State’s x-factor is whether they can find and exploit a weakness against a UCONN team that’s spent the last month playing essentially perfect basketball—and if they can, it’ll be because point guard Darrion Trammell punctures holes in UCONN’s airtight game plan.

A 5’10 transfer point guard, Trammell struggled for most of the year to fit within San Diego State’s offense after having free rein to do whatever he wanted with the ball last year at Seattle University. Recently, though, he’s been increasingly allowed to show off the true breadth of his offensive game, winning Most Outstanding Player in the South Region after hanging 21 points on Alabama and draining the game-winning free throws against Creighton.

For San Diego State to have any chance against UCONN, Trammell has to impose his will on both ends of the court. If he can summon the same level of aggression that he did against ‘Bama and Creighton, he’s the skeleton key that could unlock the Aztecs.

Offensively, Trammell is the archetypal under-sized mid-major jitterbug. Forced to compensate for being so short, Trammell is fast and tricky, using his speed and mastery of angles to keep defenders off balance and create shots for himself. Accordingly, Trammell led the Aztecs in both threes and assists despite having just the third highest usage rate on the team.

More than simply being a very good player, Trammell is very good at the specific things that UCONN struggles with. While UCONN’s all-around size has helped fuel their 2023 NCAA Tournament dominance, it paradoxically makes it more difficult to matchup against Trammell, who is too slippery and shifty for UCONN’s guards to comfortably contain. Considering that UCONN stopper Andre Jackson will most likely be stationed on Matt Bradley, Trammell should enjoy a pronounced quickness advantage against Jordan Hawkins or Tristen Newton, a pair of offense-first wings.

Similarly, Trammell is an expert pull-up shooter, which presents problems for the Huskies’ preferred drop coverage against pick and rolls. UCONN bigs Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan are both huge, monstrous rim protectors, but that strength is negated by the basic fact that Trammell doesn’t really get to the rim. This mainly jumpers diet has kneecapped Trammell’s efficiency over the course of the season (his 47.8 percent True Shooting for the year is extremely not good), but it helped the Aztecs squeak by dominant defenses throughout the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

Defensively, Trammell’s tininess makes him liable to be bullied by the right guards. Luckily, UCONN doesn’t have the right kind of guards to administer that bullying. Through the tournament, teams have elected to have a big “guard” Andre Jackson, UCONN’s  do-everything 6’6 point guard, by sagging off him and daring him to shoot, but Jackson has learned to beat that with smart cutting and screening. Without much resistance while he has the ball, Jackson has had the time of his life rampaging through defenses, tossing lobs and kicking out to shooters.

Conversely, Trammell is one of the premier pests in all of college basketball for San Diego State. He doesn’t so much guard ball-handlers as much as he straps himself to their chest like a baby bjorn. Uncertain dribblers might as well abandon any dream of dribbling three consecutive times against him and Jackson, for all his considerable strengths, isn’t the most natural ball-handler. When it’s at full bore, UCONN’s offense is a terrifying thing—their bigs are too big, their shooters are too good at shooting. But the whole enterprise is reliant on Jackson’s sneakily shaky ability to key it. Darrion Trammell has the power to stymie the Huskies’ offense before it can even get going.

Even if Darrion Trammell isn’t necessarily San Diego State’s best player (that’s probably leading-scorer Matt Bradley) or their most famous (that’s now Final Four hero Lamont Butler), he’s indisputably their most important one and the reason why they’ll be cutting down the nets on Monday night for the first time in program history.

The post San Diego State’s X-factor for national championship game vs. UConn, and it’s not Lamont Butler appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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