March Madness preview: UConn-Purdue is a matchup of college basketball’s best… with the Huskies looking to repeat as champions and the Boilermakers hoping for their first title EVER – so who will come out on top?

It is incredibly rare when the loser machine that is, the NCAA tournament spits out the top two teams in the country for the national championship game.

Yet that is exactly what we have here. What a true blessing it is to watch the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams battle it out in Phoenix for a shot at glory.

All season long, Purdue and UConn have been going back and forth for the title of top team in the country. Now, as may have been inevitable, the Huskies of Connecticut and the Boilermakers of Purdue will battle for a national title.

For Connecticut, this is a chance to crown a dynasty of six titles in 25 years: perhaps the closest it has come to UCLA’s dominance of the 1960s and 1970s. But for Purdue, an annual Big Ten basketball powerhouse, Monday’s title game offers the first chance to taste national glory in school history.

Here, Mail Sport looks at Monday night’s national title match to see how the teams will progress to the last four… and who will lift the trophy.

Phoenix hosts the national championship game between UConn and Purdue on Monday night

Purdue’s road to the finals

The Boilermakers were determined to ensure that their failures of years before would not be repeated. Last season, they became the second single-seed men to lose to a 16-seed in the tournament. The year before, they were a two seed and lost to St. Peters – who would later become the first fifteen seed to reach the Elite Eight.

After clinching the Big Ten regular season title for the third time in five years, they were unable to repeat their performance in the conference tournament after a loss to Wisconsin.

There was no first-round upset this year as Purdue handled Grambling with ease and then reached the Sweet 16 after eliminating Utah State.

What followed was a healthy win over Gonzaga, followed by an incredibly close 72-66 victory over Tennessee to reach the Final Four.

Against scrappy underdog 11-seeded NC State, coach Matt Painter’s Purdue team shot just 40 percent from the floor but knocked down 10 three-pointers to win 63-50 and reach the title game.

Purdue head coach Matt Painter reacts to a play in the NC State-Purdue game

Purdue head coach Matt Painter reacts to a play in the NC State-Purdue game

Purdue players to watch

The offense starts (and often ends) with 7-foot big man Zach Edey. While it’s wrong to say that Edey is his own one-man team, it’s right to say that the offense often runs through him more than anyone else.

He is an excellent facilitator on offense and has often used his size to generate more contact than normal and get to the free throw line (although this was not seen on Saturday where he had just two shots from the charity stripe).

This will be a game that’s all about supporting casts and Purdue has one of the better ones in the country with the guard trio of Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer and Lance Jones.

Jones shot 5-12 from the field and 4-9 from 3-point range on Saturday, good for a solid 14 points.

Loyer also scored double-digit points with 11, as well as four rebounds and two assists.

Smith has been in trouble throughout the tournament and will need to step up for the title game. After 40 minutes of play, he had just a 1-9 shooting line with three points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.

Purdue doesn’t have many depth options who consistently get playing time other than Mason Gillis, so expect them to run with essentially six men most of the night.

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Big man Zach Edey (15) is the main facilitator and offensive engine for the Boilermakers

UConn’s road to the finals

After winning the national championship last year, the Huskies had their sights set on Florida in 2007, the last team to go back-to-back.

The Huskies won the Big East regular season title and the Big East Tournament championship to enter March strong, after winning seven straight games to end the season.

After edging past Stetson in the opening round, the Huskies then dominated Northwestern to reach the Sweet 16 – a feat no defending champion has accomplished since that ’07 Florida Gators team.

A rematch of last year’s national title awaited them, but Dan Hurley’s Huskies brushed aside San Diego State to win by 30 points.

Speaking of 30, after a close first half in the Elite Eight against Illinois, UConn then went on an improbable 30-0 run in the second half to build such a lead that they were essentially Final Four bound with 11 minutes remaining to go in the second half. game.

That led to Saturday night, where Alabama became the first team to take more than 60 points from the Huskies in the tournament since Arkansas in last year’s Sweet 16. Even still, Connecticut kept its foot on the gas pedal and won 86-72 – the biggest. margin of victory in a Final Four in school history.

Connecticut Huskies head coach Dan Hurley reacts to a play against Alabama in the Final Four

Connecticut Huskies head coach Dan Hurley reacts to a play against Alabama in the Final Four

UConn’s players to watch

The biggest strength of this UConn team is how unselfish and well-prepared the team is – making it incredibly difficult for coaches to draft specific players with the knowledge of how big the Huskies playbook is and how the offense can be run by any of the players can flow. starting with five.

Only 2.5 meters tall big man Donovan Clingan has been the leading scorer for individual matches in this tournament more than once – against Illinois and Stetson. He is an incredible physical and defensive presence with phenomenal post moves that can give Edey fits.

Guard Tristen Newton shoots inconsistently from the field, but his all-around play makes him an All-American.

Transfer Cam Spencer is an elite shooter from both inside and beyond the arc. Freshman guard Stephon Castle is arguably the best ball defender in the NBA Draft pool, dropping 21 points to lead Connecticut over Alabama.

Alex Karaban is an unsung hero on this team. He is more than capable of using his slender frame to slide to the rim and equally capable of knocking down shots beyond the arc.

UConn rolls with a much deeper bench — with guard Hassan Diarra a reliable sixth man and Samson Johnson who can replace Clingan if he ever gets into trouble.

Add in the minutes picked up by freshmen Jaylin Stewart and Solomon Ball and UConn is more than capable of throwing eight or nine guys in one game.

Edey's opposite in the paint will be physical 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan

Edey’s opposite in the paint will be physical 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan

Alex Karaban

Cam Spencer

Forward Alex Karaban (L) and guard Cam Spencer (R) could have big games against Purdue

Freshman guard Stephon Castle (5) will be a key defender for the Huskies against Purdue

Freshman guard Stephon Castle (5) will be a key defender for the Huskies against Purdue

So who will win it all?

These two teams match up incredibly well, so it’s a tough matchup to predict, but the advantage should tilt towards UConn.

If Clingan and Edey get caught up in a paint battle, they could both be limited early by fouls and Purdue won’t have someone who can take over Edey’s interior presence like Johnson can for Clingan.

Even if the referees allow the big men to duke it out, Edey has never played anyone as big as Clingan this season, while his UConn counterpart’s biggest rival in conference play is 7-foot-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner was from Creighton.

But beyond those two, Connecticut will have a size advantage over the rest of Purdue’s starting four — which could give them a boost on the glass.

According to analytics site KenPom, UConn is statistically the best team in the country on offense and the fourth best on defense. That’s compared to Purdue’s third-ranked offense and twelfth-ranked defense. They are 1-2 in KenPom’s key metric, overall adjusted efficiency, but UConn is more than four points better than Purdue.

Historically, the Huskies have lost just one Final Four game to a Draymond Green-led Michigan State team in Detroit in 2009. They have never lost a national championship game. Meanwhile, Purdue is here for the second time in their history – the first time since they lost the national title to the UCLA Bruins led by Lew Alcindor (later the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

This will be a much more exciting game than UConn has ever played in its past two tournaments. Their streak of eleven double-digit wins will likely end here, but the winning streak itself will likely remain intact as Connecticut is the pick to win back-to-back national titles.