29 Apr

Breaking down who has the edge in UConn vs. Purdue matchup

The NCAA Tournament produced chaos, upsets and all the thrilling twists that make it one of the best events in all of sports. But in the end, all the madness couldn’t shake favorites Purdue or UConn out of the bracket. The pair of No. 1 seeds are squaring off for the national title on Monday night after dominating college basketball all season long.

The matchup between 7-foot-4 Purdue star Zach Edey and 7-foot-2 UConn center Donovan Clingan is the most anticipated individual battle of the season. The dueling giants patrol the paint with force and dominate games in unique ways. Edey is a ruthlessly efficient scorer, while Clingan is a shot-swatting defender and ubiquitous lob threat on offense.

But the nuances of this game go much deeper. Guard play will be critical, bench contributions will be magnified by the stakes and coaches face critical decisions. The entire college basketball season comes down to this. Only one team can hold the trophy. Either UConn will become the sport’s repeat national champion since Florida in 2006 and 2007 or Purdue will secure redemption after losing to a No. 16 seed in last year’s first round.

So as tipoff approaches Monday night, let’s take a look at the UConn-Purdue matchup and see who might have an edge — and where — in the 2024 national title game.

Backcourt
UConn: Tristen Newton, Cam Spencer and Stephon Castle
Purdue: Braden Smith, Lance Jones and Fletcher Loyer

Smith made significant strides as a sophomore and is Purdue’s second-leading scorer. But the 6-footer is averaging just 8.4 points on 37.2% shooting in the NCAA Tournament and coming off a rough showing against NC State. His counterpart, Newton, is a CBS Sports first-team All-American with five years of college basketball experience and a national title under his belt. Spencer is a lights-out 3-point shooter, and Castle is a likely lottery pick. Jones and Loyer are good players for the Boilermakers, but UConn’s backcourt is bigger and more talented across the board. Edge: UConn

Frontcourt
UConn: Alex Karaban and Donovan Clingan
Purdue: Trey Kaufman-Renn and Zach Edey

Purdue has the edge because it has Edey, who is the best player in college basketball. But UConn isn’t far behind. Clingan has been incredible during the NCAA Tournament, particularly on defense. The 7-foot-2 sophomore is a shot-swatting menace with the length to contest even some of Edey’s shots. Karaban is a dynamic asset at power forward for the Huskies because of his 38.5% 3-point shooting mark. Purdue’s Kaufman-Renn is more of an old-school power forward without much of a perimeter game. But the Boilermakers also have some flexibility with Mason Gillis, who comes off the bench. Ultimately, Edey is the first repeat winner of the Naismith Award in college basketball in more than 40 years for a reason. The college basketball legend is capable of carrying his team to victory. Edge: Purdue

Bench
UConn: Hassan Diarra, Samson Johnson and Jaylin Stewart
Purdue: Mason Gillis, Camden Heide and Myles Colvin

Diarra has been an x-factor for UConn, logging 20 minutes per game in the postseason. The 6-foot-2 guard is a defensive stopper but also reached double figures in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. The Huskies don’t miss much of a beat when Johnson spells Clingan off the bench. He is a good shot blocker and finisher at the rim. Johnson’s minutes will be critical in keeping Clingan rested for battle with Edey. Gillis is far and away Purdue’s most important bench player. In fact, he averages more minutes than Kaufman-Renn, who starts at power forward. Corner 3-pointers are the key to his game. If he can knock down a couple from outside, it should clear the lane for Edey to operate. Edge: UConn

Coaching
UConn: Danny Hurley
Purdue: Matt Painter

Hurley has previous experience coaching in a national championship game. But Painter has pressed all the right buttons with his group since Purdue’s loss to No. 16 seed FDU in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. His minor roster tweaks and rotation maximized Purdue’s potential and led to a smooth journey through the NCAA Tournament. This is a battle between two of the sport’s best, and there isn’t much separating them. Edge: Even

Intangibles
UConn has so many ways to beat you. All five of the Huskies’ starters average double figures, and any of them are capable of going off on a given night. Purdue is one-dimensional by comparison. It plays through Edey, and things tend to break down when the Boilermakers get away from that script. Three of the Huskies’ starters (Newton, Karaban and Clingan) also played key roles in last year’s national title game, which gives UConn an experience edge with this type of pressure-packed situation. Edge: UConn

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