In the age of players leaving early for the NBA Draft and now the transfer portal, it’s become increasingly difficult to win back-to-back NCAA Tournament titles.

It’s perhaps the only reason the Connecticut Huskies were not an unanimous pick to be the last team standing by the millions of people who filled out NCAA men’s March Madness brackets.

The 2006-07 Florida Gators were the last team to win a second straight national title, and they featured experienced stars Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah. All three future NBA players were in their third seasons at Florida.

This year’s Huskies are headlined by veterans of a different sort.

Though Donovan Clingan is in his second season and Stephon Castle his first at UConn, Cam Spencer and Tristen Newton are both in their fifth years of eligibility and Hassan Diarra is in his fourth. Spencer had stints at Loyola-Maryland and Rutgers, while Newton was previously at East Carolina. Diarra came over from Texas A&M ahead of the 2022-23 season.

It’s all come together for the team that has dominated the field. With Saturday’s 86-72 win over fourth-seeded Alabama in the Final Four, the top-seeded Huskies matched an all-time tournament record with their fifth straight victory by at least 14 points.

Most Consecutive Tournament Wins by 14+ Points (Single Season)

  • 2015-16 North Carolina – 5
  • 2023-24 UConn – 5
  • 1959-60 Ohio State – 4
  • 1966-67 UCLA – 4
  • 1980-81 Indiana – 4
  • 1987-88 Arizona – 4
  • 1990-91 Duke – 4
  • 1995-96 Kentucky – 4
  • 1998-99 Duke – 4
  • 2003-04 UConn – 4
  • 2020-21 Gonzaga – 4
  • 2022-23 UConn – 4

They’ve also won a record 11 NCAA Tournament games in a row by 13+ points dating back to last year’s March Madness run. However, it may not come as easy for UConn in Monday night’s national championship game against Zach Edey and the top-seeded Purdue Boilermakers.

Purdue is trying to become the second No. 1 seed in the past five years to win it all after losing to a 16 seed in the first round the previous season. Virginia was the first to turn the trick with an 85-77 win over Texas Tech in the 2019 title game after falling to UMBC in 2018.

While the Huskies have won each of their five previous championship game appearances, the Boilermakers are looking to be crowned national champions for the first time in school history.

So which team does our supercomputer favor? We’ve utilized TRACR, which is a net efficiency metric that calculates a team’s points per possession on both sides of the ball, adjusted by the team it plays, to power our college basketball (men’s and women’s) tournament projections.

And here’s our supercomputer’s win probability for Monday night’s showdown:

NCAA title game

Inside the Matchup

  • Matchup No. 1 Seed UConn (36-3) vs. No. 1 Seed Purdue (34-4)
  • Tipoff – 9:20 p.m. ET Monday (TBS, TNT and truTV)
  • SmartRating 95
  • TRACR Rank – UConn (1st)/Purdue (3rd)
  • Offense TRACR Rank – UConn (3rd)/Purdue (1st)
  • Defense TRACR Rank – UConn (3rd)/Purdue (10th)
  • How They Got Here – UConn: Stetson, 91-52 (first round); Northwestern, 75-58 (second round); San Diego State, 82-52 (Sweet 16); Illinois, 77-52 (Elite Eight); Alabama, 86-72 (Final Four)/Purdue: Grambling State, 78-50 (first round); Utah State, 106-67 (second round); Gonzaga, 80-68 (Sweet 16); Tennessee, 72-66 (Elite Eight); NC State, 63-50 (Final Four)
  • Coaches – UConn: Dan Hurley (sixth season)/Purdue: Matt Painter (19th season)
  • 3 Key Players – UConn: Tristen Newton, 6-5 guard (14.9 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, 6.2 assists per game); Cam Spencer, 6-4 guard (14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.7 apg); Donovan Clingan, 7-2 center (13.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.5 blocks per game)/Purdue: Zach Edey, 7-4 center (24.9 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 2.2 bpg); Braden Smith, 6-0 guard (12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 7.5 apg); Fletcher Loyer, 6-4 guard (10.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 44.7 3-point%)

What to Know

Edey has led TRACR’s top offensive team with 20+ points and 10+ rebounds on 60% or better shooting in seven straight games dating back to the Big Ten tourney. According to OptaSTATS, that’s the longest streak by any Division I player in last 25 years.

But a big difference between the 2022-23 team and this season’s squad has been Edey’s supporting cast. The Boilermakers have played an effective inside-outside style through the 7-foot-4, 300-pound center as his teammates are shooting 40.6% from 3-point range after making just 32.2% last season.

offensive TRACR

Fletcher Loyer has knocked down 9 of 18 3s in the tournament, while Lance Jones has gone 11 for 28 (39.3%) in the five games. They went a combined 7 of 14 from beyond the arc for 25 points and Edey finished with 20 points, 12 boards, four assists and two blocks in Saturday’s 63-50 win over upstart NC State at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

If anyone is well-prepared to defend Edey, it’s the UConn Huskies and 7-2 center Donovan Clingan. After averaging 2.3 blocks through the Big East Tournament, Clingan has racked up 18 blocks in his last four NCAA Tournament games – good for 4.5 per game.

The Huskies, who have the third-best defensive TRACR (minus-19.83) in the nation, had held opponents to 32.2% shooting – including 22.5% from 3-point range – in four tournament games before Alabama shot 44.8% and made 11 of 23 from 3 on Saturday.

While Clingan looks to hold his own and avoid foul trouble against Edey (something NC State was unable to do), the rest of the Huskies will try to contest Purdue’s 3-point shooters. Heading into the Final Four, UConn had held opposing players to just 16% shooting on contested 3s (per AutoStats computer vision tracking data).

Defensive TRACR Leaders 2023-24

  1. Houston Cougars (-24.55)
  2. Iowa State Cyclones (-22.13)
  3. UConn Huskies (-19.83)
  4. Tennessee Volunteers (-19.28)
  5. Auburn Tigers (-17.29)

Clingan has also led the Huskies offensively with 16.2 points in the tournament, though he hasn’t faced anyone the size of Edey in those five games. Freshman Castle has been an X-factor for UConn, finishing with 14 points against Stetson, seven against Northwestern, 16 versus San Diego State, two versus Illinois and 21 against the Crimson Tide.

He’s one of five players averaging double figures in the tourney for the Huskies, who rank third in the country in offensive TRACR (23.03).

Purdue may be the underdog, but it’s no slouch defensively. The Boilermakers rank 10th in defensive TRACR after holding ACC-tourney champ NC State to 36.8% shooting and 5 of 19 from 3 while forcing the Wolfpack into 11 turnovers.

History will be made Monday night in Glendale. It’s just a question of which side will be celebrating it.

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