Brynn Anderson / Associated Press
Monday, April 3, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Fans of NCAA Tournament minutia like how certain seeds traditionally perform must love tonight’s championship game.
Rare seeding history will be made either way. Either Connecticut will become only the second No. 4 seed to ever prevail, joining 1997 Arizona, or San Diego State will ascend to the first No. 5 seed to hoist the crystal basketball.
What many are referring to as the wildest March Madness in the history of the event is therefore guaranteed a fitting conclusion.
Only the Huskies could cut down the nets while becoming the first team since 2018 Villanova to cover the spread in every tournament game. The closest betting call of UConn’s bracket path so far was in the national semifinal Saturday when it still covered by seven points in a 72-59 victory over Miami as a 6-point favorite.
San Diego State’s 4-0 against the spread start to the tournament fell in the opening game at Houston’s NRG Stadium when Lamont Butler’s buzzer beater gave it a 72-71 non-cover victory as 2.5-point favorites against Florida Atlantic.
None of this matters to the championship-game handicap, of course, but it’s fun to those of us who follow college basketball, and college basketball betting, obsessively. Tournament betting wasn’t much fun for me in the Elite Eight where I whiffed on all the games, but a big Final Four performance made up for it.
The spread picks technically went only 1-1, but the lone play on UConn -5.5 cashed as did the prop bet on San Diego State’s Matt Bradley to go over 11.5 points. And then in the Weekend Wagers column, I urged a bet on San Diego State moneyline instead of the spread that hit.
Meanwhile, a future on Adama Sanogo to win Most Outstanding Player is in pole position to cash after he scored 21 points to go with 10 rebounds against Miami.
It went so well that I’ve got to chip in a couple more props to play for tonight’s game — Matt Bradley over 11.5 points at -120 at Caesars/William Hill ($180 to win $150) and Jordan Hawkins under 15 points at Even money at the same book ($150 to win $150). Both will be tracked in the Weekend Wagers.
Read below for my handicap of the national championship game point spread. The line is the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side. The record picking every game for the tournament stands at 30-34-2 (11-7 on plays, 9-15-1 on leans and 10-12 on guesses).
No. 4 seed Connecticut -7.5 vs. No. 5 seed San Diego State Speaking of that Villanova team from five years ago, I can’t help but keep harkening back to its final game in preparation for tonight’s showdown. UConn is looking to join an exclusive group with Villanova and three other teams (2000 Michigan State, 2001 Duke and 2009 North Carolina) as the only champions to win every tournament game by double digits.
The Huskies have been every bit as dominant as those Wildcats were, and the perception going into the championship game is eerily similar. Most are expecting UConn to be too much for San Diego State as 7.5-point favorites, just as they were calling for Villanova to fly by Michigan as 7-point favorites.
I remember feeling like the only person in the world on Michigan back then, and then ensuing embarrassment when Villanova rolled 79-62. But I must not have learned my lesson, because once again, I think the prohibitive favorite is priced, well, too prohibitively — and even for similar reasons.
San Diego State’s style is not as appealing as UConn’s and that dichotomy has cast too much doubt on the former. No, the Aztecs don’t have the star power or the explosiveness of the Huskies. But what they do have is a dominant defense, one that makes it difficult for opponents to truly pull away from them.
San Diego State has, to some extent, shut down every opponent it’s faced in the tournament. It big-brothered overall No. 1 seed Alabama and then adjusted well to a more varied style I admittedly thought would give it trouble in No. 6 seed Creighton.
No. 8 seed Florida Atlantic scored easier than any other team against San Diego State on Saturday, but not at the end of the game. San Diego State hunkered down when it needed to, and probably shouldn’t have needed Butler’s soon-to-be-classic jumper if it wasn’t for a procession of missed free throws (the Aztecs went 13-for-22 from the charity stripe overall) to hold it back.
My position on this game is all pro-San Diego State, and not remotely anti-Connecticut. There’s no way to possibly discount the Huskies’ run, or to say they are at any disadvantage to the Aztecs.
The Huskies’ starting five is both more talented and complementary than San Diego State’s counterparts. Then they bring in a 7-foot future pro who could be the best player on most teams in the nation, Donovan Clingan, off the bench.
The Huskies seem like a team that can fluster the Aztecs, but so have several others the latter has faced recently. None really have.
San Diego State is too tough to go away and typically too slow-paced to get blown out. The Aztecs have been rated higher, and performed better, than Miami all season so this point spread is particularly puzzling.
UConn closed a 6-point favorite against Miami, so where is the extra 1.5 points coming from against an objectively tougher opponent. Just like the 2018 national championship, I’m not calling on the big favorite to completely falter. I just think the underdog has a better chance than the odds indicate.
UConn 66, San Diego State 62.
Play: San Diego State +7.5.