Well, folks, it all ends tonight. What started out as 68 teams is now down to the last two standing. The number seven seed UConn Huskies will take the court against the number eight Kentucky Wildcats to see who becomes the highlight of One Shining Moment. The greatest tournament to date should end with a memorable match from North Dallas this evening as both teams are evenly matched in talent.
Where they are even in talent, they are world’s apart in team philosophy. Kentucky is a cast of the most athletic freshman in the land while UConn is a veteran team. The raw youth of Kentucky forms an offensive juggernaut with high flying dunks and timely three point shooting while UConn paved their road to the finals with shut-down defense led by a feisty team general always in command. The Wildcats played close games against tough competition all the way throughout while UConn has had most of their games in hand, blowing out the one and two seeds.
So who do I have winning this game?
3 REASON THAT UCONN BASKETBALL WILL WIN THE 2014 TOURNAMENT
3. Veteran leadership.
The Huskies have three players on this team who have cut down the nets before and are poised to do it again. Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, and Tyler Olander all won a championship in 2011 against Butler. The three were merely freshman themselves that season, yet they all played an integral part in the championship run. This season, Olander’s role has diminished with Philip Nolan, Ryan Boatright, and DeAndre Daniels really coming into their own, but Napier and Giffey are huge cogs in the Huskies scheme.
2. That defense is suffocating.
Did you know that since Jim Calhoun took over the UConn Huskies that they still do that zig-zag drill at the onset of practice? You know, that drill you did in high school where one guy dribbles diagonally back and forth down the court and the other guy shifts his feet and smothers him the whole way down? That’s probably why they have shut down every elite team they have faced thus far.
What UConn did to Florida was simply remarkable. They took Scottie Wilbekin out of the game and, in doing so, they completely shut down an offensive power that had won 30 straight games rather easily. They completely disrupted Michigan State’s offense in the Elite 8 by taking away their ability to slice the lane. They also made them settle for jump shots and I’m not talking about those wide open, set threes Adreian Payne was drilling because people were worried about Keith Appling. I’m talking about forced jump shots. Kentucky is young, very good, and extremely athletic. They are also, however, very raw and depend greatly on the sharp shooting of the Harrisons. Napier and Boatright could feast on this type of offense.
The real key will be keeping Julius Randle at bay. Even if UConn does what they have done thus far and shuts down the guards, Randle can dominate on the boards and create second chance shots. He is good enough to keep Kentucky in the game, but I don’t think it will be enough to win the game by himself.
DeAndre Daniels had an absolutely monster game against Florida (20 points and 10 rebounds), but this team lives and dies with their leader. Shabazz Napier is the most valuable player in this tournament. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. There hasn’t been a better or more important player on the floor in their five games leading up to tonight. Daniels and Boatright have become household names in this tourney, but that is because of the attention which is paid to Napier. He creates points. When he isn’t creating them, he scores them. What he and Boatright have done to opposing guards on defense is what has put UConn in the finals. He smothers ball handlers and isn’t afraid of anyone. He has the star-power and ability to win it all.
There you have it, folks. My last prediction of the college basketball season. Man, I hope I am right because I really can’t stand Calipari. Until next time, remember, the ball is tipped…