basketball-men-d1 flag

Mike Lopresti | | April 2, 2023

UConn vs San Diego State: The 2023 March Madness final matchup that no one expected

Lamont Butler reflects on game-winning shot moments after buzzer-beater against FAU

HOUSTON – So many things have happened during the first 66 games of this NCAA tournament. Here’s one last chance to add more, in a championship showdown that stretches from sea to shining sea. Or in this case, the Big East to the Mountain West.

Monday night arrives with many possibilities.

San Diego State could become the first No. 5 seed ever to win the national championship. Three have finished second.

Connecticut could become the second No. 4 seed to do it, joining Arizona of 1987.

San Diego State could become the first team from the West in 26 years to win the title. The same Arizona team.

😳 Buzzer-beater sends San Diego State to the national championship

Connecticut could win its fifth national championship, which would put the Huskies with Duke and Indiana in a tie for fourth on the all-time list. UConn’s run is a tad shinier, though. All five will have come in the past 24 NCAA tournaments. “Every day you come into a gym and see national championship banners, it’s big shoes to fill,” guard Andre Jackson said. “Every day you have to work to that standard.”

UConn could improve to 5-0 in national championship games. Of the programs above the Huskies or tied with them on the title list, UCLA has lost two championship games, Kentucky four, North Carolina six, Duke six and Indiana one. The Huskies have never known how second place feels.

San Diego State could get the 12th tournament victory in its history. Meaning half of the Aztecs’ all-time NCAA tournament wins will have come in the past three weeks.

Connecticut could restore the program’s standing as a full-fledged national power, finishing off one last opponent so many expect it to beat. Which has not been the safest place to be lately. “The heavy favorites haven’t fared very well in this one,” coach Dan Hurley said of the turbulent 2023 NCAA tournament. “So we’re just going to try to ignore that tag.”

San Diego State could cement its place on the college basketball landscape, where it is usually hard to get noticed among the grand old hoop strongholds. “We have a national perception now,” coach Brian Dutcher said. “I think everybody out West has always known we’ve been good. But now that we’re playing on the biggest stage and we’re winning on the biggest stage . . . hopefully this national stage will give us national respect.”

Connecticut could win with its Big Three — Adama Sanogo’s power, Jordan Hawkins’ shooting, Jackson’s floor leadership. “When those three guys are playing well, they’re not losing,” said Shaka Smart, whose Marquette team accounted for two of UConn’s eight defeats.

San Diego State could win with its wave of old guys. The Aztecs played seven seniors against Florida Atlantic. "The most experienced team that you probably could possibly play against at this point," Hurley called them.

Connecticut could become the fourth sitting member of the Big East to win the championship in the past 10 NCAA tournaments, joining Louisville of 2013 and Villanova of 2016 and ’18.

San Diego State could become the first sitting member of the Mountain West to ever win it.

✨ San Diego State's Final Four magic was just the latest in an unprecedented March Madness run

Dutcher could become a champion head coach exactly 34 years to the day after he was on the bench as an assistant when Michigan won the title.

Hurley could win the national championship as a coach 31 years after his brother Bobby did it for the second time as a player. One of the teams Duke beat in that 1992 title run was Seton Hall. One of the Pirates guarding Bobby Hurley that night was Dan Hurley, the game played in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love. “I was a nervous wreck,” Dan said Sunday. “I played as hard as I could but I was relieved in a big way when it was over.”

San Diego State could become the fifth school from the state of California to win the national championship. But the Aztecs are the new age threat. It’s now been 28 years since UCLA’s last title, and the other three – California, San Francisco and Stanford – all came before 1960.

Connecticut could become the first national champion in 42 years – since Indiana of 1981 – to win all its NCAA tournament games by at least 13 points. The Huskies' average margin of victory to date is a staggering 20.6. “They’ve run through the field,” Dutcher said. “They haven’t had to worry about close games so far, so I hope we can give them one and we’ll see what they do in a close game.”

San Diego State could provide the latest and last surprise in a tournament that became a minefield for higher seeds. “I think we’ve been underdogs the whole tournament,” said Lamont Butler, Saturday night’s hero. “We’re going to keep that mentality and keep on proving people wrong.”

Butler’s game-winning jumper for the Aztecs against Florida Atlantic could be elevated to even higher legendary status if it turns out to have led to a national championship. He got his first look at the play Saturday night when he returned to his parents’ hotel room. “It surprised me how clean of a look I had,” he said of his first impression.

The shot is already on the very, very short list of buzzer-beaters that have turned losers into winners in the Final Four. Kyle Guy’s three free throws for Virginia with 0.6 seconds left did that against Auburn in 2019. But for a true lead-changing field goal at or near the buzzer in a Final Four — remember, the score was tied when Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs and Villanova’s Kris Jenkins buried their recent famous daggers — one must go back to Indiana’s Keith Smart in 1987. And that came with four seconds left.

For one actually at the buzzer such as Butler’s, the last one in a Final Four was . . . well, never. Something to cherish, but not at the moment, given the task at hand. “Just don’t get too carried away with what happened last night,” San Diego State’s Keshad Johnson said.

That shot could lose some impact if Connecticut puts a stop to the Aztecs. “At the end of the day people are going to talk about who wins the national championship,” Dutcher said. “So it all depends on what happens tomorrow night.”

Connecticut could give the school its 16th national basketball championship since 1995, if you combine the men and women.

Either San Diego State or UConn will become the first national champion not ranked in the top-10 of the final Associated Press poll in nine years, going back to 2014, and UConn.

If 30-8 Connecticut wins, it will be the most defeats for a national champion since the 32-8 Huskies in 2014. Matter of fact, it would mean the three champions with the most season losses in the past 26 years are all UConn teams.

If San Diego State wins, it could soothe the frustrations from 2020, when the Aztecs were 30-2 and felt they had a title contender — until the pandemic wiped out the tournament. “We couldn’t have pictured this three years later,” guard Adam Seiko said.

Connecticut could take the national championship trophy back to a campus where the average annual snowfall is 34 inches.

San Diego State could take the national championship trophy back to a campus where the last measurable snowfall was recorded in 1967. 

“People say that UConn is the capital of college basketball,” Sanogo said of the Huskies.

“A mid-major program with the feel of a high-major,” Butler said of the Aztecs.

They have their differences but one thing they’ll share Monday night: The privilege to close out a tournament where it became impossible to know what might happen next.

Best moments from 2023 March Madness, captured in photos

Mayhem, Mulkey and monstrous performances — this year’s edition of March Madness was historically magical. In what has been a whirlwind of a month, here are the best moments from it all.

Here's how 6 people — somehow — predicted every Final Four team correctly

Only 0.00017 percent of brackets or about 1 in every 600,000 brackets predicted the Final Four correctly. Let's see how these six ended up with the right picks.

Explaining what happened at the end of the San Diego State-Creighton game

The ending of San Diego State's win over Creighton in the Elite Eight was wild to say the least. Here's what happened.

Subscribe To Email Updates

Enter your information to receive emails about offers, promotions from and our partners