Could this NCAA tournament possibly have any more surprises in store? Just when you think you have all the answers, college basketball changes the questions.
Before the season, Connecticut vs. Kentucky wouldn't have seemed like a crazy matchup in the national title game. The Wildcats were the preseason No. 1 team, while the Huskies were 18th.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago and the Huskies were handed a No. 7 seed, with the Wildcats at No. 8. Their respective tournament futures looked decidedly murky.
Then Kentucky beat No. 1 seed Wichita State in the third round before dispatching defending national champion Louisville in the Sweet 16.
After taking down No. 10 seed St. Joseph's in the first round, here are the seeds, in order, which UConn defeated: No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 1. Talk about a gauntlet.
Looking back on both teams' victories in the Final Four, here are some of the key takeaways.
Don't Ever Count out UConn
I'll admit I completely dismissed UConn's chances of beating Florida.
Once again, Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels did the job for the Huskies.
UConn's defensive play against the Gators was impressive but not altogether unexpected. Defense had been the calling card for the Huskies for most of the season.
The bigger surprise was the Huskies shooting 55.8 percent against what had been one of the best defensive teams in the country coming into Saturday night.
Connecticut scored 1.11 points per possession, which is the third-highest total Florida has surrendered all season, per Basketball Predictions:
I've got a final count of 57 possessions. The 1.11 PPP UConn had were the third most any team has scored against Florida all season.— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) April 6, 2014
What UConn lacks in volume offensively, it makes up for with efficiency.
The Huskies Don't Need Shabazz Napier to Have a Huge Game to Win
Napier was more subterfuge than star on Saturday. He scored 12 points in the win, which is a drop from the incredibly high standards he's set for himself in the tournament.
Daniels was the real star, leading all scorers with 20 points. Most of his damage came under the basket, per ESPN Stats and Info:
DeAndre Daniels led UConn with 20 points today vs Florida. Here's his shot chart: pic.twitter.com/tmbEy5vTz8— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2014
He added 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double.
After the game, Daniels talked about how former UConn coach Jim Calhoun said the junior forward wasn't getting talked about much in the buildup to the Final Four. Daniels' reply was perfect, per SportsCenter:
Yesterday former UConn coach Jim Calhoun told DeAndre Daniels that no one was talking about him. Daniels replied: pic.twitter.com/VD7BlgjLMD— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 6, 2014
UConn will of course need Napier to play well on Monday, but the idea that he's carrying the Huskies on his back has been proven incorrect.
Kentucky Can Dominate the Paint Without Willie Cauley-Stein
So much for the Willie Cauley-Stein injury hurting Kentucky's chances. Even without their 7-foot sophomore, the Wildcats still outscored Wisconsin 46-24 in the paint, per Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Obviously, missing 1 FT didn't get Wisconsin beat. But here's what probably did: Outscored 46-24 in paint, 23-10 on 2nd-chance pts.— Steve Carp (@stevecarprj) April 6, 2014
Julius Randle more than picked up the slack underneath. The freshman phenom seemed to struggle early in the first half after rolling his ankle, but he became stronger as the game went on, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds.
After the game, freshman Dakari Johnson admitted that Randle is the tone-setter for the Wildcats, per CBSSports.com's Matt Norlander.
"We expect that from him," Dakari Johnson said. "If he doesn't play like that, we can't reach our goal."
If Alex Poythress also plays like he did on Saturday night, Kentucky won't miss Cauley-Stein at all.
The Dying Seconds Are Money Time for Aaron Harrison
Seriously, how many times is Aaron Harrison going to do this? He hit the go-ahead three against Louisville and the game-winners against Michigan and Wisconsin.
After the win over the Badgers, Kentucky head coach John Calipari dubbed his freshman star "The Assassin," per The Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker:
Calipari says whole team plays better in tight games. "Then you got Aaron, The Assassin, making the shot that is the dagger."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) April 6, 2014
When the Wildcats need a shot in a clutch situation, the ball will end up in Harrison's hands, and as long as he's got a shot within a 50-foot radius of the basket, it's gonna go in.
Just to be on the safe side, UConn head coach Kevin Ollie should make sure that three, maybe four guys are guarding Harrison in the last 30 seconds of the game. You can't be too careful with this guy.