Kentucky and Connecticut both missed out on the NCAA tournament altogether last season. This year, they are dueling for the national title.
It's been a wild postseason with elite teams being bounced left and right, and that continued in Dallas over the weekend. While the Final Four started with top overall seed Florida and No. 2 seed Wisconsin, it's now a No. 7 seed versus a No. 8 seed for all the roses.
So much for those billion-dollar brackets.
Monday's finale also sets up a rematch of a 2011 Final Four meeting, as ESPN Stats and Information noted:
With little time left to anticipate the madness, let's break it all down and take a look at who has the upper hand heading into Monday.
When: Monday, April 7, 9:10 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Odds: Kentucky (-2), courtesy of Vegas Insider
It's safe to say both teams took an improbable path to Dallas and to the championship game. But it's even safer to say both teams have had destiny on their side throughout this run.
Every matchup for Kentucky after its second-round victory over Kansas State was national-championship caliber. The Wildcats toppled then-unbeaten Wichita State (35-1) to make it to the Sweet 16.
Then, they beat Louisville—their bitter in-state rival and defending champs. Subsequently, they beat Michigan—last year's NCAA runner-up—before gutting out a thrilling win over Wisconsin in Dallas.
Not to be outdone, UConn tore through opponents Saint Joseph's, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and Florida in spectacular fashion.
Only one of those games—the second-round victory in overtime over Saint Joseph's—wasn't in UConn's control down the stretch.
The similar opponents these two have faced don't offer much clarity. UConn beat Florida twice, a team which Kentucky lost to two times. Kentucky beat Louisville twice, a team which UConn lost to three times.
What about on paper? Well, the advantage has to go the way of the star-studded Wildcat freshmen.
Kentucky has the size with Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress to dominate the paint, even without starting center Willie Cauley-Stein in the fold. That turned into a massive advantage against Wisconsin, as the Wildcats outscored the Badgers in the paint, 46-24.
UConn junior forward DeAndre Daniels will have to play big and make his usual offensive impact while hanging in there on the boards. He notched a game-high 10 rebounds along with 20 points against Florida, and he will need to come up with a similar performance against UK's similarly sized frontcourt.
But there's little doubt that this game will inevitably come down to big plays at the guard spot between UConn's Shabazz Napier and Kentucky's Aaron Harrison.
Napier willed the Huskies to win after win, scoring 21 points per game in the tournament and coming up with big baskets late in the shot clock during dire moments. Along with sidekick Ryan Boatright, who matches Napier's swarming, athletic style of play, the Huskies are a handful in the backcourt.
As CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello said on Twitter, it's tough to bet against Napier in the clutch:
But the opposing Wildcats have seen a resurgence from their guards as well.
Twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison have been playing with a confidence they had not shown all season prior to March. Each came up big with clutch performances early in the tournament, and even when they couldn't hit shots Saturday night against Wisconsin, Aaron Harrison made all of that a distant memory with his third straight game-winning three.
Kentucky should beat UConn to a pulp in the paint, but if the Huskies send plenty of bodies toward the glass like usual, they should be able to hang on and make this game come down to playmaking at the guard spot.
However, stalemating Kentucky's impact on the glass will be a tad bit tougher than it was to do to Florida or Michigan State, or any of the elite squads UConn has defeated on its way to Monday's championship.
The Wildcats' advantage down low should allow them to have an upper hand down the stretch, and Napier and company just won't have enough big plays in them to make a final push.
Prediction: Kentucky 69, UConn 64
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