UConn-Purdue matchups, prediction for March Madness championship game

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Post’s Zach Braziller breaks down Monday night’s national championship game between No. 1 Connecticut and No. 1 Purdue at State Farm Stadium:

Backcourt

Connecticut has a projected lottery pick (Stephon Castle) and potentially two more NBA players (Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer). Purdue has nice college players, and two of them are sophomores, Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith. Smith and Loyer are marksmen — they both shoot at least 43 percent from 3-point range — and Southern Illinois transfer Lance Jones has added an explosive element on the perimeter. Smith, Purdue’s point guard, had trouble dealing with N.C. State’s athleticism on Saturday, committing five turnovers, and the Huskies are considerably better defensively. This is a mismatch on paper.

Edge: Connecticut

Stephon Castle could become a lottery pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. USA TODAY Sports

Frontcourt

It’s the matchup everyone has wanted to see, back-to-back National Player of the Year Zach Edey of Purdue against likely top-10 NBA draft pick Donovan Clingan of Connecticut. Two massive 7-footers who have dominated throughout this NCAA Tournament. The 7-foot-4 Edey has been a monster in this dance, just the third player ever to score 140 points and grab 70 rebounds in the tournament, joining Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. He’s averaging 28 points, 15.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 blocks through five games. Clingan, though, is considered a better pro prospect, a defensive dynamo at 7-2 who has produced 40 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks in the Huskies’ last two wins over Illinois and Alabama. Both teams have quality role players at the 4 — Alex Karaban for Connecticut and Trey Kaufman-Penn for Purdue — but all eyes will be on the monsters in the middle.

Edge: Purdue

Zach Edey will be tasked with containing Donovan Clingan in the March Madness championship game Monday. Getty Images

Coaches

Two terrific coaches who have done nothing but win for well over a decade. Two outstanding coaches who have been able to keep their rosters together in an era when such player retention is so rare. Between Connecticut’s Dan Hurley and Purdue’s Matt Painter, there are 587 victories and 22 20-win seasons. UConn is somehow better this year after losing five of its top eight scorers a year ago. Purdue has been able to breakthrough in March after dismal upset losses to Cinderellas the last two years. An argument can be made that Hurley and Painter are the premier coaches in the sport.

Edge: Even

Matt Painter has guided Purdue to the championship game after losses to Cinderellas the past two years. USA TODAY Sports

Bench

Purdue has received 19 points from its reserves the last three games, 30 less than Connecticut in that span. Aside from sharpshooting-forward Mason Gillis, the Boilermakers are over-reliant on their starters. The Huskies bring difference-makers off their bench, in gritty Queens guard Hassan Diarra and jumping-jack center Samson Johnson. Johnson, in fact, helped create separation in the national semifinal victory over Alabama, igniting an 8-0 spurt in the second half that turned the game, and Diarra has been a two-way factor throughout the tournament.

Edge: Connecticut

Samson Johnson sparked an 8-0 run for UConn against Alabama in the Final Four on Saturday. USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

Connecticut 85, Purdue 69

Purdue has the best player, but Connecticut has the much better team. If you were to hold a draft from these two rosters, Edey might go first, but the next five players would be Huskies. UConn is just too athletic and explosive in the backcourt for the Boilermakers. Edey will get his, but it will feel hollow as the Big East school runs away from the Big Ten champion in a second-half rout. Hurley’s team makes history as the first repeat winner since Florida in 2006-07.

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