Lest we forget, this game was about as close as possible to being George Mason versus Quinnipiac, for all the Paradise Jam marbles, without actually achieving that outcome. Seriously: Connecticut trailed by 10 with less than five minutes remaining in regulation and needed two overtimes to fend off Quinnipiac Sunday night, while New Mexico had to complete the following paragraph (from the AP's preview of tonight's Paradise Jam final) to get past George Mason:
They are in the title game in large part to their season-best nine 3s in Sunday's 70-69 victory over George Mason. Trailing by five, New Mexico (3-0) pulled out the improbable win with a 3-pointer by Williams with 11.9 seconds left, a steal by Williams and a Snell 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds to play.
That actually happened! You may have been watching your mediocre fantasy football team(s), so you may have missed the semifinals, but they were every bit as crazy as those two descriptions imply. And until the final few minutes of both games, neither New Mexico or Connecticut appeared all that convincingly superior.
That's just a small part of why both still have so much to prove tonight. Connecticut is trying to prove their win over Michigan State wasn't a season-opening/made-in-Germany fluke, and coach Kevin Ollie is on a season-long quest to prove to athletic director Warde Manuel that former coach Jim Calhoun hand-picked him for a reason. New Mexico, meanwhile, is looking to show it can recover from the loss of stellar forward Drew Gordon, and remains a viable third contender in the supposedly UNLV/SDSU-dominated Mountain West.
Both teams' strengths lie on the perimeter. For Connecticut it's Shabazz Napier (who really has morphed into the team leader he so yearned to be last season), a more efficient Ryan Boatright, freshman Omar Calhoun, and stretchy wing DeAndre Daniels. For New Mexico it's guards Hugh Greenwood, Demetrius Walker and Kendall Williams, with stretchy (and rangy) wing Tony Snell. The forwards -- UNM's Alex Kirk and UConn's Tyler Olander -- obviously have roles to play, but this game will almost certainly be won or lost on the perimeter.
If that is indeed the case, keep an eye on turnovers. The season is still young (federal law states I must include this disclaimer before any and all statistics), but thus far, UConn's perimeter has proved very good at avoiding turnovers, while New Mexico's defense has proven turnover-averse. On the other end of the floor, UConn is forcing opponents to cough up the ball on 23.6 percent of their possessions; UNM is obliging 22.9 percent of its own, which ranks them No. 239 in the country, per KenPom.com.
Those numbers could make the biggest difference, but New Mexico has managed to play efficient offense despite its turnover woes, precisely because it gets to the line so frequently (at the ninth-highest rate in the country thus far) and rebounds nearly 38 percent of its misses. If UConn doesn't win the turnover battle, it will need a massive rebounding effort to keep the pace.
Or maybe one team -- or both -- will just shoot uncharacteristically well. Or maybe one -- or both -- will shoot really poorly. This early in the season, you never really know what you're going to get. That's something we learn over and over, and the latest lesson was delivered as these teams both very nearly fell Sunday night. All we can do is sit back and watch.