When the round of 64 began, it's pretty safe to assume that hardly anyone thought the 2014 NCAA tournament's championship game would be contested between No. 7 Connecticut and No. 8 Kentucky.
Each team seemed to have a near-impossible journey to get out of its own region—let alone get to the finals.
It seems only fitting that these two teams will be squaring off on Monday evening due to the tremendous amount of twists and turns we experienced during March Madness.
Now that the stage is set, let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of both teams to determine the ultimate outcome and predict this year's champion.
Breaking Down Connecticut
The Huskies weren't much of a dominating offensive team throughout the regular season. Ranked just 144th in points per game, they struggled against teams such as SMU, Louisville and Cincinnati.
Soon after, Shabazz Napier and Co. began to figure it out and light up scoreboards.
They began by out-dueling a surging St. Joseph's team in Round 2, winning 89-81 in overtime. The Huskies followed that up with two more high-octane performances, winning 77-65 against Villanova and 81-76 against Iowa State.
Even against the stout defenses of Michigan State and Florida, Connecticut put up 60 and 63 points, respectively.
This surging offense bodes well for the Huskies, as it complements the team's solid defensive play.
Connecticut finished the season ranked 36th in the nation in points allowed. Only giving up an average of 63.5 points per game allowed the Huskies to tread water early in the season and begin to surge in the tournament.
Napier and Ryan Boatright made life difficult for Scottie Wilbekin in the Final Four. Generally a reliable shooter, Wilbekin looked miserable against these defenders. ESPN Stats and Info tweeted a very telling statistic:
One glaring weakness for the Huskies against Kentucky is in the rebound department.
The Huskies lost the battle on the boards to Michigan State 32-30 and barely edged the Gators 28-27. They'll have a tough time here against a Kentucky team comprised of many physical big men.
Breaking Down Kentucky
The Wildcats boast one of the most complete teams in the nation. Despite being chock full of freshmen, they have matured and developed some very solid chemistry during the 2014 NCAA tournament.
This team is extremely well rounded, ranking 46th in the nation in scoring offense and 84th in scoring defense. They've dominated the boards all season, ranking 19th in defensive rebounds and an impressive fifth in offensive rebounds.
Those rebounds are what fuels this team.
On the defensive end of the court, Kentucky thrives when a quick rebound leads to a fast break. This team is highly athletic and flourishes in transition.
If the Wildcats' first shot doesn't drop, collecting offensive boards gives them multiple opportunities for second-chance buckets. That's been on display in a big way during the tournament.
Not only is this team well rounded, but it is very deep.
Julius Randle, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee are aggressive in the paint. James Young, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison have fantastic range and distribute the ball nicely.
All of these players have constant roles on this team, and they all get involved. In the team's 74-73 victory over Wisconsin, six different players scored at least eight points while four recorded at least five rebounds.
One big weakness for the Wildcats is their inability to pull away from their opponents.
Kentucky continues to win games by the smallest margins, relying on last-second heroics to get the job done. When facing off against Napier and Co., they could find themselves in a bad way, as the Huskies are not a team they will want hanging around.
Just how close have Kentucky's tournament matches been? In the team's five games played, it has won by a total of just 18 points.
Both of these teams are sure to provide some thrills on Monday evening. Each is very strong in its own way. Expect Connecticut's defense to clamp down on the Wildcats' big men and keep a watchful eye on Aaron Harrison on the perimeter. Kentucky will continue to dominate the boards and earn points off of second-chance efforts and on fast breaks.
When all is said and done, this game should come down to the wire and could depend on who has the ball last. Recently, it's been Kentucky that has flourished in those situations, so they'll get the nod here.
Kentucky 70, Connecticut 68
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