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TheOpenThread: UConn (30-9) vs. Kentucky (29-8)


I haven't seen many people talk about it this week, but it occurs to me that there's a reason why UConn fans have never quite seen anything like this season:

When you think about all of Jim Calhoun's great teams of the last 20+ years, not one of them overachieved quite like Kemba Walker and the Kemba Walker Philharmonic.

The Dream Season in 1990 is probably the only remotely comparable team to this one. UConn was unranked in the preseason then, as it was in November 2010. But that ended up being a No. 1 seed that stormed through the Big East tournament (winning 28 games before the NCAAs began) and blew out its first two NCAA Tournament opponents.

The 1994-96 teams were all seeded either #1 or #2 in their regions, and fell short of the Elite Eight in two of the three years. The 1999 team was no worse than the second-best team in the country; they SHOULD have played Duke for the title, and did.

The 2002 and 2003 teams advanced as far as their seeds suggested they should. The 2004 Huskies were clearly most talented team in the country despite their No. 2 seed and misleading record.

The teams in 2005, 2006 and 2008 underperformed incredibly, losing to double-digit seeds each year, and the 2009 Final Four team was a No. 1 seed that was ranked in the top five from November through March.

This team, this magical team that thrilled us in November, frustrated us in February and bowled us over in March, is the outlier.

Is there any meaning we can attach to that? Probably not. It's merely a sign that UConn possesses an immensely talented player on a mission, and a nice supporting cast that is rounding into fine form at just the right time.

That no UConn player before Walker (and Donnell Beverly) had ever played in two Final Fours - not Chris Smith, not Ray Allen, not either Don Marshall, not Rip Hamilton, not Ben Gordon, not Emeka Okfaor, not Ed Nelson - before tonight is a testament to just how incredible and meaningful this run is.

Bask in the glow of a miraculous 30-win season, bask in the rise of a genuinely likable group of hard-working, talented (if young) kids, and bask in the final weekend - win or lose - that we get to see Kemba Walker play in our school's uniform. Take it all in before 8:49 p.m.

And then turn on your TV, watch, and hope that Kemba gets a final send-off on Monday night.

This is your OpenThread for tonight's games, beginning with Butler-VCU at 6:00. UConn-Kentucky will tip 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game. Porter is in Houston, I will be sojourning up to Fairfield County to catch the game, so hopefully Justin will be around to guide you through the night.

Below the jump, my three keys to the game. Let's go Huskies.

3 keys to the game:

1) Alex Oriakhi

No surprise. Oriakhi's rebounding and defense on the suddenly dominant (and ridiculously efficient) Josh Harrellson will probably be a difference-maker tonight. Kentucky doesn't turn the ball over, ever, and they're a pretty good shooting team, so it will be up to Oriakhi (and Roscoe Smith, et al) to make sure the Wildcats don't get extra chances near the rim. Oriakhi was huge in Maui - the only thing, I think, you can take away from a November game in which Jeremy Lamb scored 2 points - and he'll need to be huge again tonight.

2) Foul trouble
Kentucky is probably better as a team from 1-5, but the Wildcats have almost no depth. Keep in mind the Huskies are in here in no small part because Kawhi Leonard and Derrick Williams spent more than a few minutes on the bench in foul trouble. If UConn can get to the line the way they've gotten to the line in every game since March 8, they can wear the Wildcats down.

3) 3-point shooting

Kentucky is the seventh-best 3-point shooting team in the country. After being merely OK in the first three NCAA games, the Wildcats exploded to shoot 12-for-22 from beyond the arc against North Carolina. That might be a little tougher to replicate in a football stadium. If Kentucky makes their 3s, I don't know that UConn can beat them. If they miss them, I don't know that they can beat UConn.

I have no idea who will win his game, honestly. Kentucky's probably the better team right now, and they can cause all kinds of matchup problems. On the other hand, with Kemba, all things are possible. So let's wishcast this thing:

UConn 77, Kentucky 74

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