NCAA Men’s Championship Takeaways: UConn outclasses, outcoaches, outworks Purdue

UConn head coach Dan Hurley celebrates after the NCAA college Final Four championship basketball game against Purdue, Monday, April 8, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

The UConn Huskies exist in a stratosphere belonging only to them.

There is no program comparable, no team as well put together, no five-some as fearsome and no one tall enough to look them in the eye.

Their demolition derby through men’s March Madness proved that.

Confetti rained down red, white and navy blue in a scene that’s become all too familiar in the last 25 years. Their sixth national title and second straight – becoming the first team to go back-to-back since the 2006-07 Florida Gators – proved that college basketball goes through Connecticut.

The 75-60 win was suffocating, brutal and according to plan for Dan Hurley’s squad, making Purdue bend to their whim on Monday.

Though they kept it close in the first half, the Huskies pulled away with one of their patented runs in the second, throttling the Boilermakers to the tune of a 15-4 surge and a lead they would never come close to relinquishing.

When a dominant 37-point performance from Purdue superstar Zach Edey still leaves you with a 15-point deficit, it goes to show just how much one team outclassed the other.

That’s 12 straight double-digit wins at the tournament for UConn, 33-1 in non-conference games in the last two years. That’s back-to-back titles without breaking a sweat despite losing three starters from last year’s team. They made the second-best team in the country look like they’re a mid-major.

Sorry 2012 Kentucky, but it might not be crazy to say that this is the best college team of the 21st century.

Edey proved doubters right and wrong

If you came away from the game saying that Zach Edey doesn’t belong in the NBA, you weren’t watching the game.

It’s clear he has the talent, know-how and sheer physical ability to make it at the next level, though the role in which that takes shape is still yet to be fully fleshed out.

A 37-point, 10-rebound game on 60-per-cent shooting from the field and 70 per cent from the charity stripe isn’t just some statistical anomaly or a product of the collegiate level. That’s the fourth-most points in a national title game in NCAA history. That’s UConn looking at him as a force down low and conceding that battle because it’s just unwinnable. That’s pure dominance.

Donovan Clingan, his opponent at the five, is the most NBA-ready big in the college ranks. The seven-foot-two, 265-pound defensive stopper was Edey’s greatest test in the NCAA and the Toronto native made it clear that he’s got a level up on him.

On the other hand, there were a ton of moments, particularly on the defensive end, when Edey was exposed.

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Though he had two emphatic blocks in the first half, UConn carved him up on quicker sets and in the pick-and-roll, taking advantage of Edey’s slower foot speed and inability to recover down low.

The Huskies made their money in the paint, finding cutters and lob threats at will for a ridiculous 44 points in the paint. They also crashed the glass over the seven-foot-four Edey, beating the Boilermakers 13-8 in offensive boards.

There’s a place for Edey at the next level, that’s obvious enough. However, there are also holes in his game that were exploited in Monday’s loss. His strengths and weaknesses are both glaring, and how they’re elevated or abused will come to define the success he finds in the NBA.

Dan Hurley is the best and most entertaining coach in college

After completing the mythical back-to-back, Dan Hurley lives in rarified air, gaining entrance to a pantheon belonging to legends like John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski.

There shouldn’t be any doubt that he’s the best coach in college basketball right now.

In Monday’s final, he let the best player in college basketball get his looks.

By allowing Edey to go one-on-one down low, he made it so that Clingan would lose the battle but UConn would win the war.

The rest of Purdue was completely shut down, with UConn’s rangy and long defenders preventing them from getting any open looks.

Ahead of the game, the Boilermakers were one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country knocking down 40.7 per cent of their looks on 20.6 attempts per game. The Huskies allowed them to finish the game with only seven attempts from deep, making one of them for a paltry 14-per-cent conversion rate on the night.

Even when UConn was up big in the second half, Hurley was unrelenting, never taking his foot off the gas pedal. Once Purdue looked tired and checked out, he ramped up the speed, forcing his players to keep up the pressure and prevent the defence from setting up.

Hurley got so caught up in the moment that when he was up 15, he stepped onto the court as his team was setting up on offence and pushed Cam Spencer to try to get him into position, resulting in a foul.

Huskies draft stock on the rise

Over the course of their run, the draft stock for the Huskies’ starting five has seen a steady uptick.

Clingan and freshman Stephon Castle already looked like locks to go in the lottery, but with great performances in the last two rounds of the tournament, some have projected them to get selected in the mid-to-high lottery.

Castle followed up his 21-point game in the semis against NC State with a steady 15-point, five-rebound night while playing some wicked defence to help hold Purdue’s Fletcher Loyer to zero points on 0-for-5 shooting.

Alex Karaban, though he couldn’t find his rhythm from deep, did a little bit of everything for the Huskies, finishing with five points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He was great crashing the glass, grabbing three offensive boards and dominating Purdue forward Trey Kaufman-Renn. He should hear his name called in the late second round on draft night.

Tristen Newton, a fifth-year guard, was deservedly named most outstanding player after averaging 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists in the tournament. He finished with a team-high 20 points and seven assists while grabbing five rebounds. He was the engine for the team, taking care of most of the ball-handling duties while playing solid defence on Braden Smith. Like Karaban, he’ll likely hear his name called in the second round of the draft.

The biggest riser on UConn will likely be Cam Spencer, who wasn’t projected to be a pick in mock drafts from most outlets. The fifth-year transfer from Rutgers was an absolute dog in the final, finishing with 11 points, eight rebounds, two steals and a block while playing with the winning attitude that every team should want.

What happened to the rest of Purdue?

Hurley put on a coaching masterclass, but it was never supposed to be this bad for Purdue.

Besides the 37 points from Edey and 12 from Smith, the rest of the Boilermakers combined for a measly 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting from the field.

Despite rostering the most dominant physical force in college basketball, Purdue made their money with offensive versatility this season, showcasing an ability to score from all three levels.

UConn did an incredible job of funnelling the ball to Edey, making sure that their best option on every possession was to go to the big man. However, to be forced away completely from your identity, allowing yourself to be manipulated like that, is a brutal look for what seemed like a versatile team.

Purdue had four players average double-digits this season in Edey, Smith, Loyer and Lance Jones. Mason Gillis was a steady presence off the bench, knocking down 47.2 per cent of his 3.2 looks from deep per game.

That depth was nowhere to be found on Monday, with most of the Boilermakers unable to get a single open look.

They would finish the game with only eight assists, all of which came from guard Braden Smith, a far cry from their 18.7 a game leading up to this outing.

Their strength this season came in how they used the pressure Edey created to get open looks for their role players. Though UConn’s game-plan, which let Edey take on Clingan straight up, prevented open looks off double teams, the lack of movement and space creation for the Boilermakers was astounding and was easily the biggest reason for their undoing.

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