ARIZONA STATE BASKETBALL

The keys to Monday night’s national title game for UConn and Purdue

Apr 8, 2024, 8:02 AM

UConn center Donovan Clingan (32) dunks against Alabama during the second half of the NCAA college ...

UConn center Donovan Clingan (32) dunks against Alabama during the second half of the NCAA college basketball game at the Final Four, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — A March Madness comparatively bereft of drama has come down to UConn and Purdue.

The Huskies are trying to become the first repeat national champion since Florida in 2006-07. The Boilermakers are in the Final Four for the first time since 1980 and are vying to erase last year’s first-round exit as a No. 1 seed.

A few keys for Monday night’s title game:

It comes down to Zach Edey vs. Donovan Clingan

Purdue big man Zach Edey has been an unstoppable force for two seasons, becoming the first repeat AP national player of the year since Virginia’s Ralph Sampson won three straight in the early 1980s.

Edey’s size — 7-foot-4, 300 pounds — usually forces teams to double him in the post. He has exceptional footwork and vision, so the double teams are often ineffective.

Edey is the first player in NCAA Tournament history to have six straight games of 20 points and 10 rebounds.

UConn may not have to double Edey nearly as much. Not with 7-2, 280-pound Donovan Clingan in the middle.

Clingan is the central cog to UConn’s efficient offense and is a dominating presence on the defensive end. Just ask Illinois. The Illini went 0 for 19 on shots he contested in the Elite Eight.

Both teams have good perimeter shooters, but it may be the battle inside that determines this year’s champion.

Can someone stop the scoring?

UConn has outscored opponents by a combined 125 points in the NCAA Tournament and Purdue is plus-98 in its five games. The combined 223 points is the highest combined scoring margin between two finalists in NCAA Tournament history.

That will put a premium on defending.

UConn might have an advantage there.

The Huskies are No. 4 in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency ratings and they locked down late in the game to knock high-scoring Alabama out of the Final Four.

Purdue isn’t shabby on D, either, ranking 12th by KenPom.

Perimeter shooting

With so much attention on the big men in the paint, the winner may be the team that shoots it best from deep.

Purdue was the nation’s second-best 3-point shooting team during the regular season, hitting nearly 46% of its shots from the arc. The Boilermakers hit 10 3-pointers against North Carolina State in the Final Four but went 3 for 15 against Tennessee in the Elite Eight.

Purdue will need a bounceback from point guard Braden Smith, who was frustrated after going 1 for 9 — 1 for 5 from 3 — in the national semifinals.

UConn isn’t nearly as proficient from the arc but has two players who can create their own shot in Tristen Newton and freshman Stephon Castle.

Newton is a first-team AP All-American and the Huskies’ leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. Castle is the only five-star recruit in the Final Four and has not shied away from the spotlight, leading UConn with 21 points against Alabama.

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The keys to Monday night’s national title game for UConn and Purdue