Now there are two.
In terms of seeding, Connecticut and Kentucky represent the most unlikely national title game in history. Never had a No. 8 seed made it to Monday night to face a No. 7, and if the Wildcats do prevail, they will tie Villanova for the lowest seed to ever win the NCAA Tournament.
But let’s hold on before we send out the Cinderella slippers. Kentucky and UConn are both among the blue bloods of college basketball, and both rosters are stocked with high school All-Americans and future NBA talent.
This especially applies to Kentucky, a team that will surely see a mass exodus to the NBA draft in the days following Monday’s matchup. Both teams underachieved in the regular season and caught fire during the Big Dance. Both seem like teams of destiny, winning multiple games in dramatic fashion and brushing off defeat on more than one occasion.
So, who will be your national champion come Monday night? That will be broken down and analyzed in the space below. On the face of it, the Wildcats are too big, strong and powerful in the paint for UConn to deal with.
But that hasn’t stopped the Huskies from winning five straight tournament games. Can they finish it off and win the whole thing?
UConn vs. Kentucky
Starters • When Kentucky is playing at its best, there isn’t a more formidable starting five in the country. All five will be in the NBA, sooner rather than later. All five would be stars if they played just about anywhere else in the country. Say what you want about coach John Calipari, but his ability to mesh individual egos into a unit has been impressive, to say the least. UConn is top-heavy with its starters. Shabazz Napier is the best point guard in the country and Ryan Boatright is one of the best defenders. DeAndre Daniels has been the big surprise. For two years, he’s been a disappointment. In March, he’s been a matchup nightmare. The Huskies will need every bit of his production to compete in this one and have a chance.
Advantage • Kentucky
Bench • This has become an increasing strength for the Wildcats of late. Marcus Lee has been nothing short of a revelation off the bench. He’s exceptionally athletic, blocks shots, plays hard all the time and was a game-changer against Wisconsin and Michigan. He and Alex Poythress provide size and athleticism that most teams can’t match. Most teams include UConn.
Advantage • Kentucky
Coaching • How good has UConn’s Kevin Ollie been during this run? The answer is spectacular. He’s made every right move, seemingly, from his substitution patterns to his ability to manage minutes and foul trouble. For example: On Saturday when Florida went to a 1-3-1 defense, Ollie planted Daniels on the baseline against a smaller Scottie Wilbekin and had his guards throw over the top. Daniels came away with several easy baskets. But for as good as Ollie has been, John Calipari has been amazing. When the Wildcats were down by 10 points against Wisconsin, he was able to calm his team down and get them to execute. Yes, Kentucky has as much or more talent than everyone in this tournament. But if you criticize Calipari for his team faltering in the regular season, you have to give him credit for this stunning turnaround.
Advantage • Kentucky (slightly)
Watch out for • DeAndre Daniels. Three days ago, we predicted Daniels as an X-factor. He was just that for UConn against Florida. For the Huskies to have any kind of hope in this one, Daniels needs to be very good, once again. He can shoot from the perimeter, is 6-foot-9 and can put the ball on the floor and go by his defender. In short, when his jumper is falling, he is a matchup issue for almost any power forward. Can Julius Randle keep up? The last time Kentucky saw a guy like Daniels was in the second round against Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early. He dominated the Wildcats.
Prediction • The Huskies have been so good in this run to the title game that it’s hard to pick against them. But we have to here. Kentucky has put it all together. The talent of the Wildcats will eventually win out, and the Harrison twins — Aaron and Andrew — are a difficult matchup for Napier and Boatright because of their size, strength and attacking nature on offense. In what could be a classic, Kentucky will come away with its second title in three years. The final will be 75-71
Kentucky vs. UConn
P NCAA championship, Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • Ch. 2