March Madness is characterized by the improbable. The top-ranked teams do not always win and upsets are commonplace, which makes the tournament tantalizing to watch. Few would have predicted the finals we have the privilege to watch tonight.
Two of the hottest teams, the UConn Huskies and the Kentucky Wildcats, will face off at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for a chance to cut down the nets.
Neither team has faced an easy road to arrive at this point. UConn, a seven-seed in this tournament, has beaten the likes of Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and top-ranked Florida on its way to the final. Kentucky, an eight-seed, had to win against one-seed Wichita State, Louisville, University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin on its journey.
But, after all of the drama, one of these Cinderella stories will come to an end. UConn is led by senior guard Shabazz Napier, who has been lights out in the tournament. Napier was the Huskies’ leading scorer this season with 17.9 points per game. He also averaged about five assists and two steals. Forward DeAndre Daniels, who chipped in 13.2 points and six bounds, will be crucial in the paint against Wildcats phenom Julius Randle. Amida Brimah, who averaged three blocks per contest, will also be important.
The Wildcats’ frontline talent is a young group, and most of them are probably headed for the NBA next year. But, before that, this team has a chance to bring the ultimate prize back home to Lexington.
Randle is the star. He is a force down low and has a skill set that is rarely seen in terms of his scoring and rebounding ability. The 6-foot-9 freshman averaged a double-double this season with 15 points and 10.5 rebounds, and is a projected top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
Freshman guard Aaron Harrison has been the hero for Kentucky over the past two games, sinking two clutch shots in the closing seconds against Michigan and Wisconsin. Both shots gave the Wildcats the lead and won them the game.
The victory of either team will depend on execution. For UConn, the team needs to harass Julius Randle and prevent him from getting comfortable in the paint. They also need to get secondary scoring from someone other than Shabazz Napier. Candidates include the aforementioned Daniels, as well as junior guard Ryan Boatright, who was a crucial part of the Huskies’ win against Florida.
For Kentucky, they need to maintain their course. They have been scoring from all over the floor and need to break down the Huskies’ defense both inside and from beyond the arc. On the other end of the floor, look for coach John Calipari to double Shabazz Napier and force the rest of the UConn roster to beat his team.
Both of these teams are hungry and uniquely motivated after receiving what they thought to be low seeds. With chips on their shoulders, look for this game to be a blockbuster.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 7 print edition. Chris Marcotrigiano is deputy sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.