NCAA Tournament Final Four Preview: UConn Huskies vs. Kentucky Wildcats
If the first Final Four game between VCU and Butler is (in terms of NCAA tournament experience) the battle between two college basketball small fries, the second game between UConn and Kentucky is a collegiate hoops heavyweight championship bout...Ali and Frazier.
Kentucky has had 51 tournament appearances with a tournament record of 107-46, 13 Final Fours and seven championships.
UConn has had 29 tournament appearances with a tournament record of 46-28, three Final Fours and two championships.
When the Wildcats and Huskies meet on Saturday night, they will have recent history from which to draw: The two teams faced each other in late November at the Maui Invitational, with UConn coming out on top, 84-67.
Let's look at this outstanding Final Four matchup between No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 2 seed UConn and see if we can discover some details that could influence the game's outcome.
"Cats and dogs get along better than Cal, Calhoun."
That's what Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote a few years ago.
It's likely not much has changed.
When John Calipari was a brash, young head coach at UMass, he got under the skin of the more established Jim Calhoun. Imagine that...
Both coaches have had great success.
Calhoun has a collegiate record of 853-367 in 39 years between Northeastern (14 years) and UConn (25 years) and has won two national championships
Calipari has a 509-151 record in 19 years of coaching at UMass (eight years), Memphis (nine years) and Kentucky (two years).
He has taken three different schools to the Final Four: 1996 UMass, 2008 Memphis and 2011 Kentucky.
Calhoun's teams are known for playing tough, pressure basketball.
Calipari's greatest strength as a coach is his ability to create teams that play together.
The sideline experience between the two coaches in this game will make for an interesting chess match.
The Numbers: UConn
Scoring Offense: 73.5 PPG
Scoring Defense: 65.8 PPG
Scoring Margin: 7.7 PPG
FG Percentage: 43.5
FG Percentage Defense: 40.0
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage: 33.8
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage Defense: 33.3
Rebound Margin: 4.7
Blocked Shots Per Game: 5.5
Steals Per Game: 6.4
Turnovers Per Game: 11.4
The Numbers: Kentucky
Scoring Offense: 75.4 PPG
Scoring Defense: 63.5 PPG
Scoring Margin: 11.9 PPG
FG Percentage: 46.2
FG Percentage Defense: 39.1
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage: 39.5
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage Defense: 33.2
Rebound Margin: 3.8
Blocked Shots Per Game: 6.4
Steals Per Game: 5.3
Turnovers Per Game: 10.6
Kemba Walker is one of the best players in the country.
He averaged just short of 24 points per game, while also grabbing 5.3 RPG and dishing out 4.5 APG.
Walker's running mate, freshman guard Jeremy Lamb (11.1 PPG and 4.3 RPG), gives the Huskies a potent offensive attack.
Add Shabazz Napier (8.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG and 3.0 APG) and you have a backcourt trio that can go up against anyone.
The Wildcats' guards are long, talented and may be the best backcourt trio among the Final Four teams.
Freshman point guard Brandon Knight (17.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 4.2 APG) runs the show and also leads the team in scoring.
Freshman shooting guard Doron Lamb (pictured) is a threat from anywhere on the court, connecting on 50 percent of his FG attempts and 47 percent of his three-pointers.
Junior wing DeAndre Liggins may not score as much, but with his size (6'6", 210 lbs.) he is still a significant part of what the Cats do on the perimeter.
The Huskies have long, athletic frontcourt players.
Alex Oriakhi (6'9", 240 lbs.) has a fierce inside game (9.6 PPG and 8.6 RPG).
Freshman Roscoe Smith (6'8", 205 lbs.) provides nice outside skills (6.5 PPG and 5.2 RPG).
Senior Charles Okwandu (7'0", 255 lbs.) comes off the bench to provide strong rebounding and a shot-blocking presence.
The Wildcats are strong up front, able to match up with UConn quite nicely.
Freshman Terrence Jones (pictured, 6'8", 244 lbs.) is second on the team in scoring (15.9 PPG) and in rebounding (8.7 RPG).
Senior center Josh Harrellson (6'10", 275 lbs.) has come on like a freight train at the end of the year (7.5 PPG and 8.8 RPG).
His 17-point, 10-rebound performance against Ohio State may be what made the difference between winning and losing that game.
Junior wing Darius Miller (6'7", 228 lbs.) provides some outside offense from his position, scoring 11.1 PPG.
These are not just two historical powers; these are two schools that belong here.
They both closed out the regular season strong, each winning its conference tournament.
Plenty of star power on both sides, with more top-to-bottom talent on the Kentucky side.
Nobody on either of these teams has elevated his game in the postseason more than Wildcats center Josh Harrellson (15 points and nine rebounds per game so far).
If Harrellson continues to play like he has in the first four games of the NCAA tournament, Kentucky could win handily.
Kentucky by eight.