We're down to just two teams in the 2014 NCAA tournament, and the star power in the matchup between Kentucky and UConn will surely make the battle a compelling one.
It'll be those stars that dictate the outcome of the action. Sure, there will be role players that make their presences felt, but in the end, they won't be the ones who impact the end result. The names you've been hearing all tournament—Shabazz Napier, Julius Randle and others—will be the ones you'll be left praising or criticizing.
On college basketball's biggest stage, expect there to be both historic and disappointing performances. After all, not everybody can handle the pressure.
Here's how I think some of the stat lines will look at the close of the game.
Arguably the top player in the NCAA tournament after a string of very impressive performances, Shabazz Napier will need to continue to take over for the Huskies. UConn's star point guard is drawing praise from all around the country, including from former UConn star Kemba Walker:
Best PG in the country. Shabazz Napier— Kemba walker (@KembaWalker) March 30, 2014
Kentucky is fast and plays an athletic game, but that shouldn't bother Napier. Napier plays a fast-paced game himself. He's capable of scoring in transition, off the dribble and driving to the basket. He's very good in catch-and-shoot situations as well.
What sets Napier apart from other scorers is that he isn't simply a one-dimensional guard. Napier can also find teammates with regularity. He finds lanes to pass through that others cannot see, and this is a huge reason why UConn has advanced this far.
Look for him to steal the show with his scoring and passing ability.
There's a reason Julius Randle is one of the top NBA prospects leading up to the draft.
David Ubben of Fox Sports highlights Randle's tournament numbers: "Randle has averaged 15.7 points and 12 rebounds a game during the tournament run, becoming the first freshman to record double-doubles in his first four tournament games since 1978."
Randle is an absolute beast down low. He is extraordinarily athletic and can make plays above the rim with regularity. It's difficult for opposing big men to keep up with him down low because of his motor and quickness. This will make him a tough matchup for UConn's bigs.
Randle will also be motivated to perform well in front of his friends and family. He tweeted this two years ago:
In 2014, I want to win a national championship in Dallas !!! In front of all my family and friends .. Would be crazy !! — Julius Randle (@J30_RANDLE) April 12, 2012
It will be interesting to see if Randle continues his impressive run.
DeAndre Daniels might not be on the same tier as Napier or Randle, but he will be crucial to the offensive attack of the Huskies. Daniels led the team in scoring against Florida with 20 points and also posted 10 rebounds.
Finding consistency has been an issue for Daniels all season, as chronicled by John Allen of NJ.com:
The junior forward was the kind of player who could score 23 points against Boston College and then get only seven points against Indiana the next night, as he did in November, or string together a week like this in late January: 23 points and 11 rebounds vs. Memphis, 3 and 4 vs. Louisville and then 31 and 12 against Temple.
If Daniels can step up against Kentucky, then UConn will have the second scorer it so desperately needs. Napier can't do it all on his own, even though it looks as if he wants people to think that.
Daniels doesn't need a double-double, but an efficient night would be helpful. The Huskies will benefit from having a secondary option after Napier.
There is a whole lot of talent in this game. Here are some other stars to watch out for:
|Aaron Harrison||8 PTS, 2-of-7 FG, 3 A|
|Andrew Harrison||15 PTS, 3-of-6 3P, 4 A|
|Niels Giffey||13 PTS, 4-of-9 FG, 2 A, 4 REB|
Disagree with the predictions? Feel free to let me hear it in the comments down below.