The Madness concludes on Sunday as the field of 68 has been reduced to two with the No. 7 UConn Huskies and No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats set to dance for the NCAA championship.
Just like every bracket predicted. Well, 1,780, per ESPN's Matthew Berry:
A total of 1,780 brackets of the 11 million-plus entered in @ESPNFantasy Tournament Challenge correctly predicted UCONn-Kentucky in final— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) April 6, 2014
Nonetheless, one side is set up for a fairy tale ending after a miraculous run. Neither classifies as a Cinderella despite their respective seeds, which just so happen to combine to make history, as illustrated by ESPN Stats & Info:
An 8 seed (Kentucky) vs a 7 seed (UConn) in the National Championship -- the highest combined seeds in National Championship history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2014
There is little time to appreciate and digest the Final Four results, history made and title matchup. Here's a look at odds and predictions for the brave bettors out there.
When: Monday, April 7, at 9:10 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Odds: Kentucky (-2), courtesy of VegasInsider.com
The wild path both teams have taken make this is a tough call for any bettor. Not only do the two teams combine to make history, they showed faint signs of actually being able to make it this far.
Kentucky limped through the SEC and dropped games to the likes of LSU and South Carolina. UConn was a non-factor in the eyes of most, finishing tied for third with Memphis and Southern Methodist in the much-maligned AAC.
Yet Kentucky has come alive and UConn has the bracket's best player and a defense that swallows up the opposition.
Add it all up, and this spread won't budge.
As the old adage goes, never count out a team with an elite coach—and point guard—in March.
Kevin Ollie is a new name to some, but he's been making waves since he took over at UConn for Jim Calhoun. His Huskies were ineligible for the postseason last year, but he's guided them to the promised land in his second season.
‘‘It’s just going through the dark days believing,’’ Ollie said, via Seth Gruen of the Chicago Sun Times. ‘‘They believe in each other. No matter if they’re down, no matter if they’re banned, no matter if they can’t play in the NCAA tournament, they believe.’’
Ollie's team is led by Shabazz Napier, the nation's best point guard and the primary reason the Huskies have made it to this point.
He'll have his hands full with Aaron Harrison of late-game fame, who hit the winning shot to down Michigan:
He casually did it again in the Final Four against Wisconsin:
Top to bottom the Wildcats are easily the most talented team in the land thanks to coach John Calipari's one-and-done approach to recruiting. But even he admits his squad wouldn't have come this far without Harrison, per Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal:
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
The claim certainly checks out:
Kentucky is the 1st team ever to win 4 straight games by 5 points or fewer in a single NCAA Tournament.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2014
As sound of a pick as Kentucky appears on paper—especially given the young squad's apparent clutch gene—it's easy to forget that UConn perfectly matches what the Wildcats bring to the table.
Defense in particular is the reason to roll with the Huskies. Look back briefly to the Final Four, where UConn upended Florida, the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Remember Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year? Four points. When he was guarded by Ryan Boatright he was 0-for-5 from the field. When suffocated by Napier, he turned it over three of four plays (via ESPN).
Remember how the Gators were supposed to dominate down low? Patric Young got his with 19 points, but Will Yequete scored only two. More importantly, UConn won the battle on the glass 28-27 and was unstoppable in the paint, with 13 of its 14 field goals in the second half coming in the box.
Which team wins?
Kentucky isn't acclimated to this sort of defensive battle. It was lucky to draw two offensive-minded squads in Michigan and Wisconsin. Neither had the defenders capable of stifling the Wildcats attack.
On Monday, Napier and Boatright will have what it takes to silence the Harrison twins. With the lane denied, it will be tough for names like Julius Randle to consistently get sound looks.
The flip side is rather simple. Napier and Boatright have been unstoppable, with the former surely set for a massive game worthy of the Most Outstanding Player Award.
It'll be close, but experience and matchups simply favor the Huskies. Roll with Napier and Ollie once more.
Prediction: UConn 68, Kentucky 65