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NCAA National Title game: Best bets for Purdue-UConn

Jamie Schwaberow / NCAA Photos / Getty

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Well, here we are. After 66 games, not to mention even more in the NCAA Tournament's qualification process, it turns out it's one of those years when the championship contest is between the season's consensus top two teams. Purdue and Connecticut have not only won their games but have covered the spread in all 10 of their combined March Madness matchups.

Despite the Huskies and Boilermakers cashing tickets for their bettors, the market is siding heavily with the defending champions. Will our intrepid college hoops handicappers - Matt Russell and Sam Oshtry - choose a side, play the total, or find value in the player prop market?

(1) Purdue vs. (1) Connecticut (-6.5, 145.5)

Matt's best bet: UConn -6.5 (wait for possible better number) / UConn 2H

I ran into a quartet of winners Saturday, but it doesn't mean I have a great feel for this championship game, given how point spreads in UConn contests continue to baffle. Here's a look at how the projected line for this matchup has evolved, almost entirely based on the Huskies' excellence:

Pre-tournament UConn -2
Before Sweet 16 UConn -3.5
Before Final Four UConn -4
Saturday night's open UConn -5.5

The method used to create the starting point for the betting line for college basketball games suggests this contest should be UConn -3.5. But we've seen at least a two-point inflation in the spreads for the Huskies' other games - a tax to bet them. It's been worth it every time, as UConn made it 11 straight NCAA Tournament covers Saturday, despite Alabama keeping it within the number for 38-plus minutes.

The total might be a little too high, but betting against points between the top two teams in a championship game is no way to live. And with one contest to go, neither is fading UConn. Even if the spread is inflated, at least it's based on results versus when a team is perceived to be overrated.

Alabama did everything it could against the Huskies. Grant Nelson dunked on and blocked Donovan Clingan, and Nate Oats' squad hit seven of its first 10 threes. UConn still led at the half. And as usual, Dan Hurley made enough adjustments (holding the Tide to 4-of-13 from deep) to pull away in the second.

UConn won't be as accommodating to Purdue as North Carolina State was Saturday, with the Wolfpack unable to hit enough shots to stay close. The Huskies are one of the only teams in the country that can play Zach Edey straight-up. If the two-time Naismith College Player of the Year isn't taking advantage of doubles to create open threes for his teammates, I expect the Boilermakers' shooting percentage to fall below their average.

Late money came in on Alabama on Saturday, dropping the line from a high of -12 to -10.5, so wait as long as you can before starting with a small bet on UConn. Then, be willing to add to it live at halftime if the game is close since the second half is when the Huskies show their championship mettle.

Sam's best bet: UConn -6.5

UConn is looking to complete the most dominant two-year run in the sport's recent history and earn back-to-back national titles for the first time since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Purdue suffered the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history in 2023. It returned with mostly the same group and is one win away from completing its redemption arc.

But the storylines don't help us decide who to bet on. Edey has been an unstoppable force all season, and he's made opponents face the impossible question of if and how to double him.

It hasn't mattered because Edey and his improved supporting cast delivered in every big moment throughout the tournament.

However, Edey might have finally found his match against Clingan, who's been dominant on both ends and is just two inches shorter than Edey. This will be Edey's toughest defender over the last two seasons.

Beyond the battle of the bigs, UConn's guards are more trustworthy than Purdue's, who struggled in the first half against NC State.

As Matt pointed out, Alabama did everything possible to compete with UConn, and the Huskies still earned a 14-point win. UConn is inevitable. It has a second gear, consistently makes the right adjustments, and has outlasted every opponent by a considerable margin. The title game won't be any different.

Matt's best prop: Donovan Clingan - Most Outstanding Player (+175)

What am I missing?

The -275 moneyline price suggests UConn is around 63% likely to win Monday night. Clingan has averaged 16 points and nine rebounds over the tournament, with the next statistically closest teammates being Tristen Newton (13 points, seven assists, four rebounds) and Cam Spencer (14 points, seven rebounds). A Husky win likely means the UConn center has a strong showing against Edey, and a player from the runner-up team hasn't won MOP since Akeem Olajuwon in 1983. Clingan should be more than the 36.4% implied probability his +175 odds suggest to win the award.

Sam's best prop: Braden Smith over 2.5 turnovers (-120)

Braden Smith is a key piece for Purdue, but his biggest flaw is he turns the ball over too much. He looked rattled against NC State's pressure Saturday and committed five turnovers. He's committed at least three turnovers in three of the last four games.

Smith averages 2.7 turnovers per contest. He leads the Boilermakers in assists but often throws errant passes as he tries to find teammates. UConn's defensive game plan should include pressuring Smith and forcing him into difficult ball-handling situations.

Follow Matt on social media at @mrussauthentic and Sam at @soshtry.

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