UConn, Purdue set for ‘Clash of the Titans’ in national championship game

GLENDALE, Ariz. – “This is the game everybody wants to see.”

Those were the words of Purdue’s Zach Edey when asked to describe Monday night’s national championship game.

It’s 36-3 UConn. It’s 34-4 Purdue. The best team in college basketball all year seeking to repeat as national champs on one side, and the two-time national player of the year leading a program making its first national title game appearance since 1969 on the other.

Dan Hurley referred to it as “The Clash of the Titans.” In so many ways, he is correct. UConn and Purdue squaring off Monday night at State Farm Stadium will mark the first time the top-two teams in KenPom will play in the national championship game since 2021 (Baylor vs. Gonzaga), and just the fifth time ever.

Then there’s the matchup inside. It marks the first time we will see a pair of 7-footers starting in the national championship game since 1984, when Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas beat Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars. 

Edey (24.9 PPG, 12.2 RPG) has already become the first player in NCAA Tournament history to post five games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 60% from the floor in the same tournament. Clingan combined for 40 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks in the regional final win over Illinois and the national semifinal victory over Alabama. In total, he has notched 18 blocks over five March Madness games. 

That being said, Edey isn’t shying away from going up against another 7-footer, something he’s seeing plenty of during his four years playing in the Big Ten.

“He’s a unique player in the way he can protect the rim, block shots and move around,” Edey said of Clingan. “We’ve played big 7-footers my whole career … that’s kind of like the Big Ten’s thing. I’ll be ready for him.”

While Edey and Clingan have shared in being the two most dominant big men in the country this season, they don’t share the same pregame meal choices, which was a source of entertainment when they met with the media on Sunday. Edey said he would get ready for the national championship game by eating sushi on Sunday night. Clingan’s choice? A steak. Medium. 

“You may coach or play your whole career and never coach or play against somebody of his stature,” Hurley said of Edey. “He is truly a giant player. I mean, we’re a pretty physical team. We try to fly to the ball. I think we’re disciplined like they are. They’re an excellent rebounding team. We’re an excellent rebounding team. We both block out. A lot of the time it just comes down to tracing that ball and who’s going to make that life-or-death pursuit to get it.” 

If there was one takeaway from Painter and Purdue during Sunday’s media availability, it was the amount of respect they have for the reigning national champions. 

“UConn is a very, very good basketball team,” Painter said. “They are very good defensively. They run a lot of really good stuff offensively. I’m probably going to steal a couple of things for next year.

“Dan [Hurley] has just done a phenomenal job. To win the national championship, then to be back in this position, I think there’s a lot of things that come with ultimate success that’s hard to do what they’ve been able to do. To be able to piece a team together, be able to compete and win multiple championships in their conference, in the tournament, and to keep that focus. The way they’ve won, you know, there have been some teams that have hung in there with them, then they’ve separated from them. There are some other teams that have gotten flat-out blitzed.”

Painter did manage to crack a joke when discussing Connecticut’s dominance.

“They understand what we’re up against,” Painter said of his team. “They understand we haven’t played anybody like UConn. They’re no fools. We have cable where we’re from, so we’re very familiar. I think that’s the number one thing – not fearing your opponent, but respecting your opponent. We have a lot of respect for UConn.”

That respect is mimicked by Hurley, who said he watched three Purdue games immediately following UConn’s win over Alabama, and would watch five more games on tape Sunday and Monday morning. 

Three keys to the game:

1. How will it be officiated? As The Field of 68 first reported, Terry Oglesby, Jeffrey Anderson and Roger Ayers will officiate the championship game. Edey’s ability to get people in foul trouble could result in high emotion from Hurley and could force Samson Johnson into more minutes.

2. Turnovers. Matt Painter reinforced it Sunday. The Boilermakers are 27-0 when they commit 13 or fewer giveaways and 7-4 when committing at least 14. UConn will look to pressure the ball, and look for Huskies freshman Stephon Castle to continue his surge. 

3. Complementary shotmaking. Can Lance Jones and Mason Gillis ignite the Boilermakers, or will Cam Spencer and Alex Karaban serve as the difference-makers from 3? It bears noting: UConn flipped the switch defensively on Alabama in the second half Saturday, holding them to 25% shooting from downtown in the final 20 minutes. On the flip side, the Boilers kept NC State’s guards from finding a rhythm, outside of DJ Horne, holding the Wolfpack to 5-for-19 from deep. Both teams shot 10-for-25 from deep on Saturday.

My prediction: 

UConn is 11-1 all-time in Final Four and national championship games. The Huskies have won 11 straight NCAA Tournament games by at least 13 points. So, 13 is the magic number in Storrs, and Connecticut gets its sixth crown.

UConn 85, Purdue 72 

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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