UCONN and Kentucky both proved critics wrong on their runs to the National Championship game.
For the Huskies, it would have been considered a good run if they made it to the second weekend. UCONN upset Villanova to reach the sweet 16, but that wasn’t enough for Shabazz and company. They went on to defeat Iowa State, Michigan State and the favorite to cut down the nets, Florida.
Napier has been the major reason for UCONN’s success throughout the regular season and March Madness. The All-American is averaging 21 points per game on 45% shooting from the field. What’s even more impressive is that Napier is shooting 47% from distance, but it hasn’t just been Napier. DeAndre Daniels is averaging 17.6 points to go along with 7.4 rebounds a game.
The Wildcats’ path to the National Championship was even rougher, especially for a group of freshmen. Kentucky defeated three of the final four teams from last year. Those games were won by a combined total of 10 points and that’s not even including the one point victory over Wisconsin Saturday.
Aaron Harrison has been Kentucky’s clutch performer throughout the tournament. He did it against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. If the Wildcats want to raise banner number nine, they may need Harrison to come through one more time.
Let’s take a look at my National Championship breakdown:
Keys for the Huskies: Connecticut shoots 39% from distance on the season. They’ll need to be on from three in this game because Kentucky has the clear advantage inside. In order to combat Kentucky’s size, UCONN must crash the boards collectively as a unit. Getting Julius Randle or Dakari Johnson in foul trouble would definitely be beneficial, since Willie Caulie-Stein is out. Oh yeah, Shabazz needs to be Shabazz.
Keys for the Wildcats: Kentucky needs to get off to a fast start. I know they’ve started slow in every game during the tournament, but this game is a different beast. UCONN is a veteran group, who won’t fear the freshmen and when you keep playing with fire, eventually it’ll burn you. Kentucky ranks fourth in the nation in rebounding, so they must impose their will on the glass. Kentucky’s best offense is their ability to get second chance opportunities.
Key Matchup: DeAndre Daniels vs. Julius Randle.
X-Factor: Connecticut Huskies Forward, DeAndre Daniels.
Prediction: The size, athleticism and depth of Kentucky will prove to be too much for Connecticut. The Huskies backcourt consist of two players under 6-foot-2, while the Harrison twins are both 6-foot-6. Combine that size with the size of Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and the emerging Marcus Lee down low, I think it’ll be too much for UCONN to handle. Kentucky was my National Champion pick before the year and I’ll admit, I did back off on that during the middle of the season, but I’m going back to it now. Kentucky wins 68-61.