With San Diego State in the national championship game against the UConn Huskies, the Aztecs have already made history as the first Final Four team from the Mountain West Conference. San Diego State is so good that they make even the most outré bold predictions for the national championship game feel safe and sane—three weeks ago, nobody would’ve imagined that they’d be here, yet here they are, throttling any and all teams in their way.
While San Diego State basketball is the massive underdog against Uconn, this isn’t your standard, flukey Cinderella: San Diego State can play. Outside of Gonzaga, no west coast team has been as consistently excellent as the Aztecs, who have made the last three NCAA Tournaments and would’ve been potential one seed in 2020, if not for COVID. Over the last decade, San Diego State basketball has had loaded teams with legit NBA talent—Kawhi Leonard, Malachi Flynn and Jalen McDaniels have all passed through town—and this year’s edition is better than all of them. Here are our bold national championship game predictions as San Diego State prepares to square off against UConn for the title.
1. The championship game will be one of the lowest scoring games of the entire 2023 NCAA Tournament
Both San Diego State and UConn play muscular, defensively minded basketball. According to KenPom, the Aztecs are the fourth best defensive team in the country while the Huskies sit just four spots lower in eighth. To wit, both teams play at a deliberate, creeping clip—San Diego State is 270th in tempo and the Huskies aren’t exactly relative either as they boast the 214th fastest pace. In other words, these are teams with offenses that don’t take very many shots and defenses that don’t let you make very many either.
In their five NCAA Tournament games, San Diego State held every opponent below 70 points, except for Florida Atlantic who notched 71 in the Final Four. Beyond their postseason dominance, the Aztecs have also not allowed more than 75 points in any game this season.
So far in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, the opening round matchup between Pittsburgh and Iowa State has the ignoble title of the most offensively impotent game, as the two teams combined for just 100 points in Pitt’s 59-41 route of the Cyclones. While the Aztecs and Huskies are unlikely to reach that same level of ineptitude, it’s almost impossible to imagine this game busting out into a track meet. The Aztecs must limit possessions and control the terms of engagement of the game if they want to be competitive.
2. Darrion Trammell scores a season-high 24 points
One of the most coveted point guards in the transfer portal last offseason, Trammell dominated at Seattle University last season, scoring 17.3 points and delivering 5.0 assists per game on his way to a First Team All-WAC nod. With the Aztecs, though, the 5’10 junior has struggled—his per game averages have practically been slashed in half (9.7 points and 3.0 assists per game this year) and he’s been one of the least efficient scorers in all of college basketball, shooting just 35.9 percent from the field.
Still, he’s steadily rounded back into form and has quietly been one of the premier players in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, taking home the Most Outstanding Player award in the South Regional, thanks to his 21 point explosion against Alabama in the Sweet 16 and his game-winning free throws with 0.2 seconds left against Creighton in the Elite Eight.
Against UConn, Trammell seems uniquely well positioned to build on his earlier Tournament success. As the best pull-up jump shooter and pick-and-roll operator on San Diego State, he’ll be the Aztecs’ primary option to try to counter UConn’s stalwart rim protection—if San Diego State’s bigs and wings can’t reliably score the basketball in the paint, Trammell will have to keep them alive by raining fire from the perimeter.
3. San Diego State shocks the world
San Diego State has never won a national title; UConn has won four in the last 25 years. San Diego State has had to sweat out back-to-back one point nail-biters to beat a six seed and a nine seed in their last two games just to make it here; UConn has crushed teams with an average margin of victory of 20.6 points. The Aztecs are 7.5 point underdogs. And yet, the Aztecs will be the ones cutting down the nets on Monday night; it’ll be their one shining moment.
There are lots of reasons that the Aztecs have no business winning this game—they have worse players; they’ve played worse all season; they go through extended periods of each game where they seem to think the objective of the sport is to pop the ball. But they have two major advantages—their defense is impregnable and their guards are nails. If the chaos of this NCAA Tournament has offered any real takeaways, it’s that stingy defense and dynamic guard play are the two great equalizers. San Diego State faced a massive talent deficit against Alabama’s frontcourt of future NBAers, but their guards so thoroughly pummeled ‘Bama’s backcourt that it didn’t matter; Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner towered over the Aztecs, but Creighton’s guards were so spooked by San Diego State’s pressure defense that they could hardly throw an entry pass. For the last three weeks, the Aztecs have put together a rich collection of shining moments; it’s time for them to add one more.
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