National Championship Preview

National Championship Preview

In a college basketball season dominated by the likes of Florida, Arizona, Syracuse, Wichita State, Duke, Kansas, Virginia, and Michigan, it only seems fitting that a pair of teams given little chance to cut down the nets prior to the NCAA Tournament will meet for the national title tonight in Dallas. When Connecticut and Kentucky tip on college’s grandest stage, it will be the first time a No. 7 and No. 8 seed will face one another for the right to call themselves champions. No two teams played better or slew as many dragons along the way to reach the pinnacle of the 2013-14 season. Here’s a preview and prediction for tonight’s matchup.


Just how did the Wildcats and Huskies defy the odds and make it to the title game? First and foremost, by playing exceptional defense. UConn shut down the heart and soul of top-seeded Florida, point guard Scottie Wilbekin, holding him to 4 points on 2-9 shooting and forcing his first three turnovers of the tournament. Neophyte head coach Kevin Ollie neutralized the Gators’ length inside by switching to a smaller, quicker lineup that pressured their veteran opponents into uncharacteristic mistakes. Even with superstar senior Shabazz Napier having a quiet night, second and third fiddles DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright delivered career-defining performances.

For the Huskies to hoist the gold trophy for the second time in four years, the aforementioned Daniels and Boatright must come up huge, along with Napier returning to his East Region form. Kentucky boasts a significant size advantage at every position, but UConn is used to playing small and still manages to compete on the glass. Of course three-point shooting will be vital to their success; they hot only 5-12 versus Florida, while limiting the Gators to 1-10. Ollie will have to work his magic once again and devise a game-plan to outwit and outlast the deeper, more talented Wildcats.

Kentucky can look flat out bad in stretches. They have won five tourney tilts by a combined 17 points. Michigan and Wisconsin threatened to three-point them to defeat, but the young ‘Cats’ confidence has yet to be shaken. Aaron Harrison has knocked down three consecutive game-winners from beyond the arc, and an imposing front line continues to dominate when crunch time sets in; a combination of Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle, and Alex Poythress locked down Badger big man Frank Kaminsky, holding him to 8 points and 5 rebounds. Poythress, in particular, was fantastic in the final minutes on both ends of the floor.

John Calipari has figured out the pulse of his team. Love him or loathe him, Calipari is the best in the business at getting freshman to reach and exceed their potential when the spotlight is brightest. Kentucky could’ve lost in each and every game they played in the tournament, and yet here they stand, one game away from a second title in three years. How UConn defends Kentucky’s towering post players will decide the outcome. If Randle and Co. control the boards and get second and third scoring chances, the undersized Huskies will be hard pressed to come away victorious. Regardless of how the paint is won, Napier and Boatright must hit threes and prevent threes.

This could easily go down as an instant classic. On paper, the Wildcats appear like the logical choice. They are bigger and brimming with confidence. However, Connecticut is downright unflappable. They trailed 16-4 to the Gators and ended up winning by ten. Counting them out seems unwise. Tough call here.

Bet Kentucky -2.5