Picking a winner in Monday's National Championship Game matchup between Connecticut and Kentucky is a tall task when you consider just how improbable each team's run to the final has been.
The Huskies are the first No. 7 seed to ever reach the national title game, and the Wildcats are just the third No. 8 seed to make it this far since the tournament field expanded in 1985. That also means that Monday's showdown will mark the first time in history that a No. 7 and No. 8 met for all the marbles.
Therefore, you can build a strong case for either side. Here, I'll predict which team will come out on top, as well as who will take home Most Outstanding Player honors on Monday night.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
When: Monday, April 7 at 9:10 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Spread*: Kentucky (-2.5)
*according to Covers.com.
Prediction: Kentucky Over Connecticut
With Monday's showdown destined to come down to the wire, you've got to love Kentucky's chances of survival. After all, Aaron Harrison and the Wildcats have delivered in the clutch time and again throughout this tournament, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Kentucky's wealth of talent doesn't hurt, either. Led by Julius Randle, John Calipari's preseason No. 1 features a slew of future NBA players, including James Young and the Harrison brothers.
What's more, those talented teenagers are playing liked grizzled veterans, as evidenced by their poise and improvement since the postseason began.
Freshman guard Dominique Hawkins breaks it down, via ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf:
We really didn't know who was going to be the big guy to take the shot [earlier this season]. We know now because you see Aaron, he's hitting all these big shots, though. In the beginning of the season, we really were going through our bumps and all that crazy stuff because we didn't know who to give the ball to. We were still trying to figure it out. And now we're figuring it out, and that's why we're in the national championship.
But even though the Wildcats have come a long way over the past month, the Huskies present a unique challenge, especially on defense. Kevin Ollie's squad surrendered a fair share of points through their first three tournament wins, but have since turned up the pressure, holding Michigan State and Florida to 54 and 53 points, respectively.
Connecticut's guard pressure has been a huge reason for its success on that end of the court, but it remains to be seen how successful Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright will be against Kentucky's bigger backcourt. The Harrison brothers and Young are each 6'6" and will have an obvious size-and-strength advantage over the Huskies.
With Randle, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee all wreaking havoc down low and around the paint, Kentucky's perimeter players should have plenty of opportunities to exploit Connecticut's lack of size and shot-blocking on defense.
As a result, you can expect the Huskies to struggle to contain the Wildcats and ultimately keep them off the scoreboard.
Kentucky 73, Connecticut 68
Most Outstanding Player Prediction: Julius Randle, F, Kentucky
Surprisingly, Randle predicted two years ago that he would have a chance to win a national championship in front of his friends and family in Dallas. So, it's safe to say the double-double machine will be ready for the moment on Monday night, per Sporting News on Twitter:
The 6'9", 250-pound superstar is averaging 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in five NCAA tournament appearances and will be a lock for the MOP award if he can post those averages in a Kentucky win over Connecticut.
Randle was limited in the Wildcats' Final Four win over Wisconsin after injuring his ankle, but he still managed to score 16 points and pull down three offensive rebounds.
Therefore, the 19-year-old should have a big game against Connecticut's undersized frontcourt on Monday night. If he can draw fouls and get to the line, he'll be even more effective and increase his odds of taking home MOP honors.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.
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