Huskies, 'Cats tangle
April 7, 2014
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Kentucky (29-10) vs. UConn (31-8)
NCAA Tournament: Final Four National Final
Venue: AT&T Stadium
Location: Arlington, TX
Tip-off: Monday, 9:10 p.m. ET
Sportsbook.ag Line: Kentucky -2.5, Total: 135.5
Two teams looking to cap an incredible NCAA Tournament run close out the 2013-14 college basketball season on Monday night as eight-seeded Kentucky takes on seventh-seeded Connecticut at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.
The Huskies pulled off a shocker on Saturday as the team knocked off seven-point favorite Florida, 63-53. UConn (22-15 ATS overall, 7-5 ATS on neutral courts) trailed 16-4 early in the game, but rallied back to defeat the Gators for the second time this season, outshooting them 56% FG to 39% FG. That makes the team 10-2 SU (8-4 ATS) in its past dozen games, with both losses coming to Louisville. While Shabazz Napier has been the best player throughout the NCAA Tournament, it was DeAndre Daniels that had the big game against Florida. The 6-foot-9 junior finished the national semifinal game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, showing the ability to score in many different ways.
While the Huskies do not have a lot of bulk in their frontcourt, they have made up for it by pressuring their opponents and doing a great job of contesting the rim. Entering the national championship, the Huskies rank third in Division I in blocked shots this season (226), and contesting the rim will play a huge role in this game against a Kentucky team that has been dominating opponents on the glass. The Wildcats lead the country in total rebounds (1,575), while also ranking second in rebound margin (9.7 RPG). And they are even better than their opponent in turning away shot with 231 blocks (2nd in nation). In the 74-73 win against Wisconsin on Saturday, Kentucky (19-17-1 ATS overall, 8-2-1 ATS on neutral courts) had just one blocked shot, but was able to win the rebounding margin by five, giving the club a +9.0 RPG margin during the NCAA Tournament, outrebounding all five NCAA opponents.
As he had done the previous two games, Aaron Harrison hit the game winning three-pointer versus the Badgers, knocking down a 24-footer from the left wing with 5.7 seconds left. The Wildcats shot 50% from the field on Saturday, but Harrison’s winner was only the second made three-point shot of the game (2-for-5 threes). Both clubs have favorable betting trends for this championship game as Connecticut is 9-1 ATS after playing a game as an underdog this season, while Kentucky's John Calipari is 9-0 ATS after two straight wins by 6 points or less in all games he has coached since 1997, outscoring these teams by a +9.7 PPG margin. These two teams last met in the 2011 Final Four, with the eventual champion Huskies escaping with the 56-55 victory. UConn also beat 9-point underdog Kentucky in the 2006 NCAA Tournament by a narrow 87-83 margin, but the Wildcats won two regular-season games in between, both on a neutral court, prevailing 64-61 in 2009 and rolling to an 84-67 rout in 2010.
Kentucky is a good offensive team with 75.3 PPG (60th in nation), but the club shoots poorly at 45.5% FG (106th in Div. I), 33.3% threes (212th in nation) and 68.4% FT (221st in Div. I). The team also has a poor turnover margin (minus-1.3 TOPG) and a paltry 11.2 APG (284th in nation). But the Wildcats know how to attack the glass with 14.5 offensive RPG (5th in nation), and that is a big reason they lead the country in free throw attempts (1,122). They also contest every shot on defense, limiting opponents to 66.8 PPG (84th in Div. I) on 41.1% FG (58th in nation), 32.2% threes (68th in Div. I). Kentucky has been on an incredible run as of late behind the shooting of SG Aaron Harrison (13.9 PPG, 36% threes, 2.9 RPG). Harrison is going on one of the most magical runs in recent tournament history, hitting three consecutive go-ahead shots from the three-point line in the final minute of each contest. At 6-foot-6, he will have a big height advantage against the smaller guards of the Huskies. If he can continue to shoot like he has done so far in the NCAA Tournament (14-of-25 threes, 56%), Kentucky will be in great shape.
PF Julius Randle (15.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG) saw his streak of four consecutive NCAA tournament double-doubles end on Saturday, but still played a huge role in the win over Wisconsin with 16 points and five rebounds, giving him 15.8 PPG and 10.6 RPG in the NCAA Tournament. He is simply too strong for opposing forwards to guard, but he also does a tremendous job of scoring off two dribbles. Even with 7-foot C Willie Cauley-Stein (6.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG), the team's best shot blocker (2.9 BPG), unavailable to play due to an injured ankle, the Wildcats are still loaded with big bodies to fill the paint and cause the smaller Huskies loads of trouble.
Seven-foot C Dakari Johnson (5.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG), 6-foot-9 PF Marcus Lee (2.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG) and 6-foot-8 PF Alex Poythress (5.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG) combined for 22 points and 15 rebounds in the semifinal win over Wisconsin. Swingman James Young (14.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG) led the team on Saturday with 17 points (5-of-11 FG, 6-of-7 FT), and also added five boards, giving him 11.8 PPG and 4.6 RPG for the NCAA Tournament. PG Andrew Harrison (10.9 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.1 RPG) has not been getting talked about as much as his twin brother, but he has played well all tournament long with 11.6 PPG and 5.0 APG. Pace and tempo of this game will play a huge role in the outcome of the game. If this turns into a battle in the paint, the more physical Wildcats will be in a great position to get the win. But if the experienced UConn guards can control the pace of the game and deny the Kentucky entry passes into the lane, the superior shooting Huskies could get their second national title in four seasons.
Connecticut has been a terrific shooting team all season both from the foul line (77.4% FG, 5th in nation) and from behind the arc (38.9% threes, 25th in Div. I). But this is not a high-powered offense, as the team scores only 72.1 PPG (133rd in nation) on 45.0% FG (also 133rd in Div. I). The Huskies have a much better turnover margin (+1.5, 77th in nation) than their Monday opponent, but don't get to the line as often with 21.0 FTA per game. But UConn's defense has been unbelievable in the past two games, holding Michigan State and Florida to 53.5 PPG on 38.9% FG. For the season, the team limits opponents to 63.5 PPG (36th in Div. I) on 39.2% FG (13th in nation) and 33.0% threes (103rd in Div. I). The one big deficiency on this team is rebounding (+0.4 RPG margin, 179th in nation), which could loom large against the glass-eating Wildcats. The Huskies continue to be carried by PG Shabazz Napier (17.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.9 APG), who leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He does a great job shooting the ball from the three-point line (40.3% threes this season), but is also terrific at getting to the basket. He has put together an unbelievable run in the NCAA Tournament -- similar to Kemba Walker in 2011 when Napier was a freshman -- with Napier averaging 21.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 4.8 APG during the five wins. In the past four games, he has shot 52% FG, 54% threes (14-of-26) and 91% FT (21-of-23). If he is able to hit a couple shots from the outside early, then he becomes nearly impossible to guard.
SF DeAndre Daniels (13.2 PPG, 43% threes, 6.0 RPG, 1.4 BPG) has also played his best basketball as of late, averaging 19.7 PPG (59% FG) and 9.3 RPG in the past three contests, which includes two games of 20+ points and 10 rebounds. At 6-foot-9, Daniels is a real mismatch, as he possesses the skills of a two guard. While the Huskies will need him to score, he will have to play big on the glass against the likes of Randle and Johnson. SG Ryan Boatright (12.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.5 SPG) does a lot of things on the court, but his biggest strength is his quickness. Like Napier, he puts pressure on the defense by getting to the basket at will. Not only has he stepped up his offense in the NCAA Tournament with 11+ points in each win (13.6 PPG), but he has played his best defense of the season too. His relentless on-ball pressure will play a huge role in this game, as the Huskies will need to pester the Wildcats freshman backcourt and not allow them get into their half-court sets. Seven-foot C Amida Brimah (4.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG) has limited offensive skills, but shoots 65% FG and does a great job of protecting the rim with 2.3 BPG in just 16.3 MPG. SF Niels Giffey (8.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG) has been an excellent three-point shooter this season at 48.3% (56-of-116), but he has been ice-cold over his past four games, making just 1-of-11 threes, including 0-for-7 in the past two contests. But despite his cold shooting, Giffey has done a nice job on the glass with 6.8 RPG over the past four games. The Wildcats are going to focus their defense on the trio of Napier, Boatright and Daniels, and that will make it imperative for Giffey to knock down the outside shot when he's open.
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