There is one more game to be played in the 2014 men's college basketball NCAA Tournament ... and UConn is a part of it.
I'll admit, that hasn't totally sunk in yet. This amazing, team-of-destiny run hasn't completely sunk in yet. What this means for UConn's legacy and the future of the program hasn't completely sunk in yet.
But none of that matters. There are 40 minutes of basketball left and, when it's over, someone will be cutting down the nets.
I think that's going to be UConn ... and let me make my case.
First, Kentucky has played some amazing games in this tournament, arguably some of the best in history, and that's gotten a lot of people very excited. The post-game conversation has been about this team finally "figuring it out" and "coming together." It's been about the future NBA talent they have on the team and how incredible their offense has been, especially in the last few minutes of games.
I get that, and it's all true. But if you didn't watch any of Kentucky's games and just listened to the analysis you would probably be under the assumption this new "Fab Five" was running through opponents like a bad Indian dinner through a goose. In fact, Kentucky has gotten to this title game by winning their five contests by a combined 18 points. They've needed some crazy, past-NBA threes just to survive and advance. Despite all their talent, the Wildcats haven't exactly beaten up on the field.
Conversely, UConn has found a way to really outplay many of their opponents in this tournament. They overcame an early deficit to control Villanova, had a 17 point lead on a good Iowa State team in the second half, turned a 9-point hole against Michigan State into a late lead and win, and then inexplicably frustrated arguably the best team in the nation, Florida, on Saturday night.
Simply put, UConn's played better against top opponents. Where Kentucky has had to hang on and win a lot of these games, UConn has put themselves in a position to beat some great teams here, especially against MSU and Florida, the two teams most "experts" picked to cut down the nets when the Tourney was first announced.
Second, while Kentucky certainly has a terrific offensive rebounding team and some fabulous talent on the court, they are not what you would consider a stellar defensive team.
Consider this: Wisconsin scored 73 points against the Cats while shooting 46 % from the field. Michigan scored 72 while shooting 47.4 %. Lousiville only scored 69 points but made 49.1 % of their field goal attempts and lost that game from the free throw line, where they were an abysmal 13-23. Wichita State scored 76 points on over 55 % shooting, including 47 % from three. In fact, the only team Kentucky didn't allow to shot well from the field was Kansas State in their opening round.
Conversely, UConn's defense has been very good. They gave up 81 points to St.Joes in an overtime win and 76 to Iowa State. Besides that, they held Villanova to 65, Michigan State to 54, and Florida to 53 points. While St. Joe's shot 50 % in their game, Nova only scored on 35 % of their attempts, Iowa State 46 %, MSU 39 %, and Florida 38 %.
There is simply no comparison. If defense truly does win championships, I like the Huskies chances.
Third, I know Julius Randle is a beast. He looks like an NBA player and he's going to score and rebound in this game. But to me, Kentucky's success has been about their guard play, and I like the Huskies to win that matchup.
Kentucky hasn't really faced a team that pressures the ball for the entire shot clock the way UConn does, and in games against MSU and Florida, Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier were able to push the other team's guards away from where they want to set up their offense. They were right on them, smacking at the ball, harassing them, frustrating them. The Wildcats really haven't seen that this tournament, except against Louisville in a game where, again, the Cardinals win if they are just a tad bit better from the free throw line. I think that's where UConn wins this ... their guards will outplay Kentucky's twin brothers.
Fourth, I know at this point in the tournament experience might not matter all that much, but Kentucky is still running freshmen out there. It hasn't mattered much, and they haven't played like freshmen at all, but I do believe UConn can hurry them up and put them in a position to do "freshmen" things. They did it to MSU. They did it to Florida. They keep nipping at their heels until finally the guards starting making bad decisions and turning the ball over.
Kentucky might just do that. They have turned from the disappointment to the favorites. They have gone from the team that's too young to win to, now, the team too talented to lose. If UConn does to them what they did to MSU and Florida - ball pressure, steals, big threes, just taking them out of what they want to do - I could see things unraveling a bit.
Finally, the big edge that Kentucky is suppose to have in this game is on the frontline. The Wildcats are just bigger and stronger, right? Randle is too much of a load, correct? The Huskies just don't have the players to match up, isn't that so?
Where have we heard that before?
Oh, I know ... against St. Joes ... and MSU ... and Florida. All three of those teams, especially MSU and Florida, were suppose to just overmatch UConn on the insider, getting whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. Didn't happen, not by a long shot.
Whatever Kevin Ollie and his coaching staff did with this team before the Tournament began, it's changed the reality. This hasn't been a team you could run roughshod over on the inside. They have more than held their own. They have more than stepped up to the challenges. Against some great college basketball teams with GROWN MEN patrolling the front lines, UConn has controlled the middle. I don't know if they will do that against Kentucky, but at this point I'm not worried about them being abused in their either.
Oh, and one last note: UConn losing to anyone in this tournament would hurt, but for the love of God it would be too much to watch Calipari put up another trophy and take bows in front of college basketball.
Of all the coaches in America, Calipari is the one I like the least. He just comes across as a used car salesman. A guy who could sell you snake oil and convince you it will cure your cancer and take out any unwanted stains in your carpet.
Look, I have a complete and total disdain for the NCAA and it's "rules," all of which seemed design to brand young athletes as villains for doing dastardly things like taking money from people that want to GIVE IT TO THEM to help their family, or selling one of their items on EBay just to make ends meet. But are we suppose to forget that John Calipari had two Final Four appearances negated because of NCAA violations? I guess that's no longer a part of the resume?
And how about the fact that Calipari has now made his career out of attracting one-and-done players with no intention of getting a degree or using Kentucky for anything other than a way station before heading off to the NBA, and yet the school's APR and grad rates keep them in good standing with the NCAA? Really? Look, I don't have a problem with what those kids at Kentucky are doing, but I do have a problem with an organization (NCAA) that smacks down UConn as some sort of immoral basketball factory and bans them from postseason play last year, but has nothing to say about Kentucky changing their roster every single year when one "class" ships out for greener pastures. Please.
I know it shouldn't matter, but I can't stomach UConn losing to the likes of him ... so I know it can't happen.
Plus, it's my birthday today and I want a big gift:)
Anyway, 40 minutes from destiny folks. Forty minutes from a fourth championship.
Is it 9 p.m. yet?