Watching the ways Kentucky and Connecticut marched toward their final, sure-to-be-epic clash in the NCAA National Championship game on Monday just proves the value of letting teams decide their fates themselves.
Not to bring everything back to college football's BCS system, which thankfully ended its run as we know it in January, but imagine if the same system applied to college basketball? The Huskies and Wildcats wouldn't have made it into the tournament.
Now, following Connecticut's dominant performance against Florida and Kentucky's last-second wizardry against Wisconsin, the college hoops season will end the only way it can—with 40 minutes of intense, hard-fought action.
As you settle in to watch Monday's championship clash, here is the information you need to know.
|Connecticut vs. Kentucky Information|
|Date||Start Time||Network||Live Stream||Point Spread|
|April 7, 2014||9:10 p.m. ET||CBS||March Madness Live||Kentucky (-2)|
|NCAA.com, Vegas Insider|
Key Stats to Know
Connecticut Free Throws: 91-105 (86.7 percent)
There are certain aspects of sports that everyone takes for granted until it becomes a problem. In football, it's field goals and special teams. In MLB, it's closers and relief pitching.
In basketball, free-throw shooting is paramount to success. No team has been better in the NCAA tournament at shooting free throws than Connecticut. The Huskies have played five games thus far and made at least 90 percent of their free throws three times.
Against Michigan State in the Elite Eight, the Huskies missed one of 22 free-throw attempts. By comparison, the Spartans only attempted eight free throws.
Kentucky hasn't been terrible from the stripe, making 72 of its 102 attempts (70.6 percent), but the Wildcats clearly aren't in Connecticut's league.
Kevin Ollie's team has no fear stepping up to the free-throw line in a late-game situation. It's an easy way to get points and a clear advantage for the Huskies in the championship game.
Kentucky's Inside Presence
One reason Kentucky has been so successful in the tournament is its size on the inside, which no one else has been able to match.
Dan Wolken of USA Today noted how dominant the Wildcats were on the offensive glass and in the paint against Wisconsin on Saturday night.
UK: 21-8 second-chance points, 44-22 paint points.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) April 6, 2014
For the record, Kentucky finished with 46 points in the paint against the Badgers, but you get the idea of how absurdly one-sided the game was when it moved to the lane.
Even with seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein sitting out the last two games, and playing just four minutes against Louisville, due to an ankle injury, John Calipari is able to rely on 6'8" Alex Poythress and 6'9" Julius Randle to present matchup nightmares for opponents.
Unless Connecticut is hitting outside shots or gets those big men into foul trouble early, it's going to be a long day for the Huskies. Kentucky wears opponents down later in games with its size and strength on the inside.
Connecticut's D vs. Aaron Harrison
Wisconsin's biggest mistake against Kentucky was giving Aaron Harrison, who made huge three-point shots in the final minute to give Kentucky the lead against Louisville and Michigan, room to shoot in the final seconds.
Now that the book is out on Harrison, don't expect Connecticut to make the same mistake in a late-game situation. The Huskies have been stellar on defense, especially in victories over Michigan State and Florida.
The Spartans and Gators combined to score 107 points on 38.9 percent shooting. Florida made just one of 10 three-point attempts.
UConn made Michigan State a jump-shooting team. UConn turned Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin into a non-factor. And if UConn makes Kentucky a jump-shooting team, they'll likely head home with the title.
Harrison has been magnificent behind the three-point line this tournament, not even factoring in his late-game heroics, making 14 of his 25 attempts through the Final Four.
The Wildcats aren't an elite three-point shooting team, hitting just 33.4 percent of their attempts in the regular season, but Harrison has given them the outside weapon they were missing.
Connecticut has to hold Harrison in check on the outside in order to capture its fourth national championship.
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