NCAA Championship 2014: Unheralded Players to Watch in UConn vs. Kentucky

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2014

Kentucky center Dakari Johnson (44) celebrates after a third-round game against Wichita State at the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in St. Louis. Kentucky won 78-76. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel

The big names get the attention on Monday night when the Kentucky Wildcats and Connecticut Huskies clash for the NCAA championship. Fans know the deal. Shabazz Napier. Julius Randle. Ryan Boatright. Aaron Harrison.

But what about those other guys? Those few who still play solid minutes and have an impact on the overall outcome of each game?

Guess what? They'll be on the floor as well at various stages, and their impact shouldn't be discredited. Fans know about the star players, so here's a quick look at the lesser-known names who can alter the outcome of the title bout.


When: Monday, April 7, at 9:10 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas

Watch: CBS

Live Stream: March Madness Live

Odds: Kentucky (-2.5), courtesy of Vegas Insider


Andrew Harrison, Kentucky

David J. Phillip

Aaron gets all the love.

It makes sense considering he's hit three game-winning shots to this point, and a fourth wouldn't be a major shock.

But Andrew plays a major role for the Wildcats, too—and no, we don't mean going undercover to make his brother's life easier, either:

That said, Andrew can make Aaron's life easier on Monday night without debauchery. He's tallied assist totals of five, three, seven, six and four in the tournament to date as the facilitator on offense, and his ability to find Aaron and Co. will be key to upending the Huskies.

He's also known for a big game here and there, as noted by 14- and 20-point performances on the bracket. Flip to the other side, where Andrew will also have to play great defense to help contain Napier and Boatright.

Andrew gets few headlines, but his impact is massive.


Amida Brimah, UConn

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 05: Amida Brimah #35 of the Connecticut Huskies goes for a loose ball against the Florida Gators during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at AT&T Stadium on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

UConn has surprisingly been stout in the paint during the tournament, and it has even effectively shut down the likes of Michigan State's Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne while effectively silencing the Florida Gators as well.

The reason? Quality minutes from Amida Brimah off the bench. The 7'0", 217-pound freshman's size is a force to be recommended with beneath the rim. His length in particular caused Florida headaches, as captured by CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello:

Brimah won't blow anyone away with statistics. He doesn't see the court consistently enough to score a noticeable amount, but his presence simply in the paint alters games, as guards accustomed to slashing through the lane find it suddenly clogged.

Brimah does much to keep the Harrison twins out of the paint while physically matching Randle on the block. It's a tough assignment, and one the freshman won't get much credit for regardless of the end result.


Dakari Johnson, Kentucky

Eric Gay

The spotlight is on Aaron for his game-winning shot, but the majority of the credit for Kentucky being able to move past Wisconsin in the Final Four goes to Dakari Johnson.

Johnson, who stands at 7'0" and 265 pounds, was a monster on the block who held Frank Kaminsky to just eight points—after he had scored a minimum of 19 in his prior three appearances.

Coach John Calipari is one who knows to give Johnson a wealth of the credit, as captured by Larry Vaught of Central Kentucky News:

Dakari did a great job of guarding Kaminsky yesterday and everybody said he couldn’t do it, can’t move, he’s not fast enough. He’s fast. A lot of times he chooses not to be fast because it’s harder. But he’s fast. He’s quick enough. His feet move. But it’s really hard to do that when you’re seven foot — how much do you weigh?

Johnson's scoring numbers have wildly fluctuated on a game-to-game basis during the tournament, but his physical presence has done much to keep the Wildcats in close games.

On Monday, he'll be a key cog in a defense that needs all the help it can get. Keep a close eye on No. 44.


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