(8) Kentucky Wildcats 29-10 (12-6 SEC)
KenPom: 9 (6 Offense, 44 Defense)
I am dreading Tuesday morning. Not because I'll be waking up with presumably a massive headache for my 9:30 lecture, not because I'll have a 12 page paper I haven't started due on Wednesday, but because it means the dream is over. It means that win or lose, Monday night will have been the last time we see Shabazz Napier give Kevin Ollie that pre game hug. It will be the last time we'll see Niels Giffey with that beautiful blonde beard. It will be the last time this 2014 UConn defense stifles another offensive power. Win or lose, this has been a historic year that defied any chance of UConn basketball falling into an abyss of mediocrity, but instead enhanced the tradition of the greatest college basketball program of the last 15 years. Led by a once-in-a-generation player with the coolest first name since a guy named Kemba, Shabazz and the Huskies will play the winningest team in the history of college basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats, for the Huskies' 4th National Championship in 15 years.
In what is the most unsurprising surprise since Syracuse lost to Dayton two weeks ago, 8 seeded Kentucky and 7 seeded UConn matchup as two remarkably contrasting teams. Kentucky is led by 5 freshmen, UConn is led by upperclassmen. Kentucky is 1st in the nation in offensive rebounding, UConn is 277th. Kentucky relies on its size and strength with their shortest starter at 6'6 while UConn prides itself on its finesse and quickness led by their the 6'0 Ryan Boatright and the 6'1 Napier.
There are intriguing match ups all over the court on Monday, and plenty of mysteries as to who will guard who. Kentucky's front court does not have the quickness to stay with DeAndre Daniels if he continues to play like an NBA lottery pick. UConn does not have the girth or talent in their front court to keep leading scorer 6'9 250 pound Julius Randle (15.1 ppg, 10.5 rpg) out of the paint and off the glass. The damage Daniels and Randle can impose upon the opposing defense will be major, but the matchup between 6'6 freshmen twins PG Andrew Harrison (10.9 ppg) and SG Aaron Harrison (13.9 ppg) against Boatright and Napier could decide this game.
UConn's backcourt has been playing the best on-ball defense that I have seen from a UConn team in years. The two held Florida's guards, SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbiken and 3 point specialist Michael Frazier II, to 7 points on 3-12 shooting and have had 20 steals combined so far this tournament. The Harrison's are physical guards that can finish in traffic and get opponents in foul trouble. Andrew is solid facilitator averaging almost 4 assists per game while Aaron can heat up from 3, closing out the past 2 games with 2 game-winners from deep. The question is, will the freshmen twins be able to handle 94 feet of pressure from the hottest defensive duo in the country? I think Boatright and Napier will have their way with the Harrison's offensively as both guards' first step has proved impossible to guard over the past few weeks, but this game will be decided on if the twins can stay composed, elude Boatright and Napier for open shots, and be able to feed their playmakers inside.
Yes, UConn has gotten farther than just about all of us had expected. Yes, Kevin Ollie has earned himself a major pay-day and established himself as UConn's coach for years to come. And yes, Shabazz Napier is officially the next Husky of Honor. These are all monumental facts of the season, but all fall short to the one fact, the one memory, the one number that will first come to mind when we think of the 2013-2014 UConn Huskies.
UConn 72 Kentucky 66