Kevin Ollie’s Huskies vs. Calipari’s Cats. Experienced, grizzled veterans vs. Scintillating diaper dandies. Northeast, stylish, perimiter-centric basketball vs. Southern beast-mode, dunk city basketball. Two of the nation’s proudest programs locking horns on Monday night.
Oh boy, this is going to be fun.
Neither the dudes from UConn nor John Calipari’s NBA factory were expected to get here. UConn got slapped with a 7 seed as part of what seemed like the selection committee’s big diss to the AAC (Louisville also got underseeded and SMU missed the Dance altogether). ‘Tucky, meanwhile, earned an 8 seed as a result of the general mediocrity of the SEC this year and a solid month of less-than-great basketball on their resume (from early February to early March, the Cats simply weren’t very good).
But in the tournament, UCANn and CANtucky (ok, that was bad) have been on point.
UConn plays a precise brand of offense based on scoring from the outside (as a team they shoot 39% from deep) to set up interior drives and paint buckets. Defensively, they’re tremendous; Kevin Ollie’s squad is super physical on that end and capable of giving different looks. Despite being undersized, they battle for boards and block shots. They’re also capable of extending their defense and forcing turnovers.
UConn has flummoxed many teams with their defense in the tournament, from Florida last night to the high-octane offenses of Michigan State (Elite Eight), Iowa State (Sweet 16), and Villanova (Round of 32).
Shabazz Napier, who was a role player on the Kemba Walker-led ’11 UConn team that won it all, is now the main event for the Huskies–he’s their go-to scorer, assists leader, and one of their best rebounders. His range as a shooter can’t be overstated.
But this Huskie team is more balanced than the ’11 outfit–forward DeAndre Daniels is a beast. He managed a 20 point, 10 rebound performance against Florida and it was his second 20-10 output in three games. Meanwhile, guard Ryan Boatright is money at both ends, wing Niels Giffey is deadly from downtown (48%), and seven-foot center Amida Brimah is a battler in the post.
The Huskies are a high-skill team, but also have a Kevin Ollie, fighter identity. They’re also scorching hot coming into Monday night.
Coach Cal’s guys are pretty darn torrid also. There’s something magical (you might even say lucky) about what the team from Lexington has done to get here. They escaped the Midwest Region, this year’s “Region of Death”, and took down Wisconsin. They didn’t lead at halftime in any of their last four wins (wins over Wiscy, Michigan, Louisville, and Wichita State). But man, can they close.
Aaron Harrison has emerged as Mr. Clutch for the Cats. Harrison hit the game winning trey that took down Michigan…and then hit the game winner from deep last night against the Badgers.
Kentucky is still a team of stars, led by future lotto pick and hella post presence Julius Randle, the prodigiously gifted Harrison twins (Aaron and his bro Andrew), and dynamite wing James Young.
But ‘Tucky has managed to coalesce into a team just in time for March. Their defense has come a long way since Florida pounded them into submission on March 8th and their offensive ball movement is also much improved.
Their raw talent remains off the charts. Even guys like role player Alex Poythress can absolutely throw down.
The Pick: UConn 64, Kentucky 56
While there’s something magical about this Kentucky team, I’m going with Kevin Ollie and the Huskies to win it all. UConn is experienced, tough, and fresh off an incredibly impressive win over the number one overall seed. Kentucky’s got the edge in athleticism, but they’ll have a hard time guarding UConn on the outside. Shabazz and friends should get it done.