The Kentucky Wildcats and the Connecticut Huskies will meet in the 2014 NCAA Championship Game on Monday night. The game will take place at the luxurious AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas with the opening tip slated for 9:10 PM ET. According to NCAA basketball betting odds Kentucky is a 2.5 point favorite and the posted total is 134.5. Kentucky enters the contest with a record of 29-10 and Connecticut comes in at 31-8.
If you predicted these two teams to be in the NCAA Tournament Finals you are a lot smarter, or much luckier, than all of us that do this for a living. I can't recall in recent history when there were two seeds this low that advanced to the national title game. Kentucky was the #8 seed in the Midwest Region, while Connecticut was #7 in the East. Make no mistake, both of these clubs have earned their way here by beating a plethora of highly touted opponents.
Eliminating Monster Opposition
Kentucky knocked off undefeated Wichita State, the defending national champion Louisville, the Big 10 regular season champ Michigan who was Louisville's opponent in last year's national title game, and West Regional winner Wisconsin. The Wildcats have been involved in some of the most exciting games in this season's "Big Dance". Three of their 5 postseason wins have come by 3-points or less.
at the Opportune Time
Saying that Kentucky has elevated their game during the NCAA Tournament would be a vast understatement. The Wildcats have shot 48% from the field compared to 46% during the regular season, 39% from beyond the three-point line compared to 33%, and 71% from the free throw line compared to 68%. The most amazing part of the Wildcats magical run is that they've accomplished it with 5 freshmen starters. The one player in particular that presents a matchup nightmare for opponents is 6'9 power forward Julius Randle who's been a double/double machine. Randle averages 15.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
Veteran Guard Play Carries the Huskies
They say that quality and veteran guard play can carry you a long way at this time of the year. The Connecticut Huskies starting backcourt makes that previous statement prophetic. Senior Shabazz Napier and junior Ryan Boatwright have been terrific during the Huskies run to the national title game. The Huskies point guard Napier has been a real star averaging 21.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game in 5 NCAA Tournament games. Ryan Boatwright has been a terrific compliment averaging 11.6 points in the 5 contests. Boatwright has point guard type skills that makes Connecticut a very difficult team to pressure, just ask the Florida Gators about that. One of the unsung heroes for Connecticut has been 6'9 forward DeAndre Daniels. He's pitched in an average of 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds during the 5-game NCAA run. Daniels shoots 43.5% from beyond the three-point line on the season.
Rebounding: The clear edge goes to Kentucky in this department. That's no knock on the Huskies considering that Kentucky has been one of the best rebounding teams in the country all season long. The Wildcats have a huge +8.6 rebound per game differential in their 5 tournament games. They're especially lethal on the offensive boards.
Backcourt: Connecticut has a huge edge in this department. I have already alluded to the play of Napier and Boatright earlier in the article. Although the Kentucky guards are excellent penetrators, the Huskies starting pair can beat you in a variety of ways.
Defensively: This is the one area where Kentucky hasn't been as good during the tournament as they were during the regular season, and especially over their last 4-games. Connecticut has been brilliant defensively in their last 2-games versus Michigan State and Florida. The Huskies have held opponents to less than 40% shooting from the field on the season. I give the slight edge to the Huskies in this area.
The Head Coaches: I have been very impressed with the job that Kevin Ollie has done in his 2nd year on the job at Connecticut. He took over for long time Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, and in his first season at the helm the program had to serve a one-year probation period resulting from NCAA violations, that also included a postseason ban. His game plans during the NCAA Tournament have been nothing short of brilliant. The Wildcats head coach John Calipari has an impressive resume. He's led three separate programs (Massachusetts, Memphis, and Kentucky) to the Final Four. This will be his 3rd NCAA Tournament championship game appearance, including winning it all just 2-years ago with Kentucky. Just based on experience alone, I have to give the edge to Kentucky here.
Free Pick: Kenucky/Connecticut to go over the total of 134.5