NCAAB Championship: Kentucky Wildcats vs UConn Huskies Preview

shabazz napierIn what is perhaps the most unlikely final in NCAA basketball tournament history, the seventh seeded UConn Huskies will play the eighth seeded Kentucky Wildcats for the March Madness National Championship on Monday (9:10pm ET, CBS).

There is a reason they don’t call it March Normalcy or March Calmness. The titular term March Madness is accurate for the bracket-busting action that seems to happen every year at this time. And while it is expected that no one will ever see a perfect bracket come to fruition, this year, as it turns out, less than 1% will have actually picked the correct champion.

This kind of poor showing from millions of entries is largely a result of the unprecedented kind of madness that saw only one of the top seeds reach the Final Four.

For the first time since the field expanded to 64 basketball teams in 1985, there has been a three-seed or better in each of the championship games. In history, the highest combined seeding total in a final was 11 (#3 UConn vs #8 Butler). All that is about to change.

Not only is there no #3 seed competing but nor is there a four, five or six either. Connecticut as a seven-seed is the technical favorite. The total of the seeding for the final is 15, a new highest seeding record. I think it is fair to say no one expected this championship.

Throw the Seeds out the Window

If everything had played out the way the seeding had implied, we’d be preparing for a March Madness national championship between Florida and Arizona or Wichita State or Virginia. But anybody that predicted that Final Four would have been as crazy as anyone who predicted the Final Four we actually got.

That’s because seeding is only representative of what you did. Florida got the #1 overall seed because they won the SEC Championship, were undefeated in conference , won 26 consecutive basketball games to end their season and only lost two total. They earned the top seed and were predicted by most of the country, this writer included, to go all the way.

But what myself and so many did not account for is what UConn would do from the first game of the tournament. This was a team that came in third in what is now perhaps college basketball’s weakest power conference. They weren’t expected to get past #2 Villanova, let alone #4 Michigan State. But they did. They got hot at the right time.

Coincidentally or perhaps by some sign of fate, Connecticut got Florida in the Final Four. Again the underdogs, UConn won, bookending Florida’s undefeated streak. They weren’t expected to do it but its madness. Even the first overall seed is vulnerable.

Kentucky is another example but to a slightly lesser degree. The Wildcats lost to the Gators in the SEC Championship after an up and down season. They entered the NCAA tournament as a #8 seed but were the preseason number one. By that logic, Kentucky making the championship game shouldn’t be that surprising. However if they win, it still ties history as the highest seed to win the title.

But other than the potential for history and the historical impact of the matchup, the seeds don’t mean anything at this point. This is just a basketball game between two of the country’s hottest teams and on a neutral field at AT&T Stadium, it really is anybody’s championship to win.

Heat Check: Shabazz Napier vs Aaron Harrison

Since the first game of this year’s March Madness tournament, Shabazz Napier (pictured) of UConn and Aaron Harrison of Kentucky have been leading their teams in the best way possible. Each team is only as far as they are because of these two and it is very likely that the team that wins the championship will be the one whose star outperforms the other.

Napier has done nothing but put up the numbers and as I referenced in a past article is putting on a Kemba Walker-esque circa 2010-11 performance. To clarify that a bit, here are Kemba’s numbers from UConn’s championship run.

  •  (1st round) Vs #14 Bucknell: 18 points, 8 rebounds, 12 assists
  • (2nd round) Vs #6 Cincinnati: 33 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
  • (Sweet 16) Vs #2 SDSU: 36 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists
  • (Elite 8) Vs #5 Arizona: 20 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists
  • (Final 4) Vs #4 Kentucky: 18 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists
  • (Championship) Vs #8 Butler: 16 points, 9 rebounds

Napier was on that championship team. He was a freshman who came off the bench. But now as a senior, it is his time to shine and since round one, that’s exactly what he’s been doing.

  •  (1st round) Vs #10 St. Joseph’s: 24 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists
  • (2nd round) Vs #2 Villanova: 25 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
  • (Sweet 16) Vs #3 Iowa State: 19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists
  • (Elite 8) Vs #4 Michigan State: 25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists
  • (Final 4) Vs #1 Florida: 12 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists

Connecticut will only go as far as Napier can take them. As you can see from the seeds, Napier’s task has been a bit harder than Kemba’s but he has done the job nonetheless. Against Kentucky, Napier’s output will probably be kept low just like it was against Florida. If UConn could win that basketball game, there is no reason to believe they won’t be able to take down the SEC’s second-best as well. But UConn has not yet had to face anyone like Aaron Harrison.

While Harrison was considered a top-five in this year’s draft class, his best games didn’t come until Kentucky needed them the most. Just like Napier, without Harrison, Kentucky wouldn’t be playing for yet another championship under head coach John Calipari.

Harrison contributed 19 points alongside brother Andrew who had 20 in team’s second game against top seeded Wichita State. In the third game against defending champion and #4 seeded Louisville, Harrison scored 15 including the go-ahead and eventual game winner with under 40 seconds left to play.

As if those heroics weren’t enough, Harrison sunk a second game winner against #2 Michigan, a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left. And third time’s a charm right? Harrison yet again was the hero with a clutch three with 5.7 seconds left to lift Kentucky over #2 Wisconsin.

Needless to say these are two teams with two incredibly reliable players. Maybe it only makes sense after all that they are representing the country in the championship.

Kentucky Wildcats vs Connecticut Huskies Betting Picks

While this might not have been the basketball matchup many of us expected, it is intriguing nonetheless. Both of these teams have talent and both of these teams defied expectations. Connecticut Huskies is not the team that came in third in the AAC and Kentucky Wildcats is not the team that lost 10 games including six in conference.

These teams have grown throughout the year and have gotten better. They are both hot right now too which only adds to the intensity that the game will bring. Both have beaten top seeds, both have done so with flare.

It really seems like a toss-up who will win March Madness but if you are to make a bet, I’d take UConn. It won’t be so much of a blow-out but it won’t be close enough for Harrison to drain a game winning three either. Although, don’t be surprised if he gets the ball if Kentucky is down late. Trust Napier in this one and go with Connecticut as your soon-to-be national basketball champion.

  • Bet on the Uconn Huskies on the spread +2.5pts @ odds of -105 with BetOnline. On the moneyline they are +132 betting odds with the same firm, but we’ll take that points advantage instead. You can get Connecticut +3pts with Bovada Sportsbook but the odds are a little worse at -120.
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