Monday, April 7, 2014
NCAA Basketball Championship Game - Arlington, Texas
I'd like to meet the person that picked this as the Championship game three weeks ago and shake their hand. Problem is, I am not sure that person would exist. As 7 and 8 seeds, this is the highest ever combined seeding in a Championship game. Kentucky wasn't even ranked in the AP poll when the Tournament began, while Connecticut was only as high as 18 in the AP top 25.
After a slow start and it looking like they were going to be blown out by the Gators, UCONN quickly struck back and then dominated Florida. DeAndre Daniels had a monster game and UCONN's guards dominated Florida's guards, not allowing Scott Wilbekin to get anything going offensively.
Kentucky once again took part in an instant classic, and once again won on a three point shot by Aaron Harrison, this time against Wisconsin. Another familiar formula Kentucky followed was getting behind early but then finding a way to claw back into the game.
The key for the Huskies to be able to knock off Kentucky will be once again having other plays step up on offense to complement Shabazz Napier. Daniels was that guy on Saturday, as was Niels Giffey. Fellow guard Ryan Boatright was his usual excellent self defensively but also added some scoring punch. The Huskies defense will also be tested by a Wildcats team with a lot of size and a lot of players with the ability to score. The Huskies bench contributed just 6 points in the win on Saturday, so the pressure will be on their starters to perform well throughout the game.
Julius Randle had just 5 rebounds on Saturday night but put up 16 points and could be in line for a dominant performance tonight. James Young has not received the accolades and attention that Randle and the Harrison twins have, but he has been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament. It seems like each game he is good for a couple of clutch three pointers and he led the Wildcats in scoring on Saturday. Andrew and his brother Aaron have both struggled with their shot the last couple of games, but Aaron has been easily forgiven because of the timing of when he has been able to hit shots. They will have a tremendous size advantage on Napier and Boatright tonight, and should look to drive the lane and make their lives a little easier. They are both excellent when they drive and then dish it to the big men they have like Randle, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee.
I think it is impossible to pick against the Cardiac Cats right now. Game after game, these freshman have played amazing basketball under pressure and in tense moments. The stage won't be too big for them. Connecticut's defense will keep the Huskies in the game but the Wildcats have so many options for scoring that I don't think UCONN will be able to slow them down enough. The size advantage the Harrisons have over Napier and Boatright will become a huge factor on both sides of the ball. I don't expect Aaron to have to hit a game winning shot this time. I think Kentucky will allow its fans a chance to breathe tonight and enjoy a win. Calipari will bring Kentucky what it believes is its college basketball right, a national championship and their second in three seasons.
Prediction: Kentucky 67, Connecticut 59