The national championship game for the 2023 NCAA Tournament is set, after No. 5 seed San Diego State advanced with an epic buzzer-beater against No. 9 seed FAU and No. 4 seed UConn steamrolled No. 5 seed Miami in the other national semifinal. Caesars Sportsbook opened with the Huskies as 7.5-point favorites in the game, which will broadcast live on CBS on Monday night at 9:20 p.m. ET and can be streamed on Paramount+.
How the Aztecs got here: San Diego State earned its spot in the championship game after overcoming a 14-point second half deficit against Florida Atlantic, marking the fifth-largest comeback in Final Four history. Lamont Butler's game-winning jumper with 0.6 seconds remaining also joined the exclusive list of last-second game-winners in the Final Four, as Brian Dutcher's decision not to call a timeout on the final play allowed Butler to get downcourt against FAU's defense in a frantic late-game situation. Dutcher's trust in an experienced SDSU squad paid off, and now that confidence has to be even higher as it propelled the Aztecs to the program's first-ever appearance in the national championship game.
How the Huskies got here: UConn's 72-59 win against Miami adds another double-digit win to a Huskies' run in this NCAA Tournament, bringing even more attention to the team that was already favored against the field to win it all according to the oddsmakers. The Huskies have been considered one of the best teams in the country for long stretches of this season, from the 14-0 start (with 13 double-digit wins) to the current 14-2 run across the team's last 16 games. The only reason this team got a No. 4 seed was because of a tough stretch in the early stages of conference play when UConn lost six of eight games, but midseason adjustments and improved play have the Huskies rated as the No. 1 team in the country according to KenPom.
How UConn and San Diego State match up: Speaking of ratings, this is a meeting of two of the top 15 teams in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Aztecs are coming of a win that saw FAU score more than any other team in SDSU's eight-game postseason run (MW Conference Tournament and NCAA Tournament), but it was the defense that stepped up late in second half possessions to help key the comeback. UConn's defense rates well on the season, but they've been particularly impressive in the NCAA Tournament allowing just 59.2 points per game across the team's five tournament wins with no teams scoring more than Arkansas' 65 points (in a 23-point loss) in the Sweet 16. Head coach Dan Hurley voiced his pride for UConn's defensive effort against Miami after the game, and it'll be required again to match what San Diego State will bring to the matchup.
What's at stake: If UConn can win, it will be the program's fifth national championship since 1999, with this year's squad joining the 1999, 2004, 2011 and 2014 teams that have set the expectation for Huskies basketball in the modern era. Hurley would also be the third coach to win a title for UConn, an honor that reflects positively on both coach and program. For San Diego State, a win against the Huskies would further legitimize the Aztecs as one of the prominent programs of the modern era and allow the players who were around in 2020 to cut down nets after a tournament was canceled in the wake of a potential top-two seed in the field.