NCAA Final Prediction

Posted: 04/07/2014 by levcohen in Basketball, NCAA

It’s a matchup between two high seeded teams who shouldn’t be high seeded. It’s a matchup between #7 and #8 seeded basketball powerhouses. The second best player in college basketball (Shabazz Napier) against the most talented team in the country. In a game that will break the record for highest combined seed in a National Championship game, we see not Butler or VCU, but Connecticut and Kentucky. That’s why this 7 vs. 8 feels more like last year’s game, in which Louisville met Michigan. So all the talk about upsets and the like might be overblown, which is fine by me; if we get the kind of game we got last year, I’ll be happy. And I think we can get that sort of game. In one corner, there’s Connecticut. I’ll be honest: Even at halftime, when they held a three point lead, I didn’t think they had much of a chance of beating Florida. Would they keep it close? Absolutely; I thought they would do that before the game even started. But even as UConn’s lead grew, Florida was more talented. They were also doing a good job on Napier, who ended with just six shot attempts. And their offense, led by Patric Young and Casey Prather, was bound to wake up, right? Connecticut was energetic defensively, but they didn’t have the manpower to defend guys like Young and Prather with their focus on the likes of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier instead. Florida was going to go on a run. But that run simply never came, and UConn ended up winning by 10. I would say it was a fluke result, but I’m now underrating the Huskies. Florida did a good job on Napier, but the fact that other guys eventually stepped up for Connecticut is very important, and I think it will be carried over for another game. DeAndre Daniels, a presence both inside and out, shot 9-14 from the field, hit two threes, and had 10 huge defensive rebounds against one of the upper-echelon defensive teams in the country. Ryan Boatright, Napier’s speedy backcourt mate, poured in 13 points and got to the rim at ease. Napier is the star, but this is by no means a one man team. And they are pressure the ball very well defensively. Napier had four steals, and the Huskies are lethal on the fast break.

And in the other corner, there’s Kentucky. Could you think of a less-Cinderella-ish Cinderella? Technically, Kentucky is just that, because they are an eight seed who has knocked out an undefeated one seed, a flavor-of-the-month four seed, and a hot shooting two seed, all of whom made the final four last year. Kentucky is overflowing with talent, and it shows. They find ways to win (or at least have been in the tournament), and often do so by just throwing the ball in the vicinity of the basket and gobbling up the offensive rebound. They are out to prove that they are a stronger, more physical team, and they often do so. Julius Randle has more double doubles than anyone else in college basketball, and, even without Willie Cauley-Stein, a ton of big men to support Randle. In the tournament, this team has transformed from a talented team into a one that is just really cohesive and good at basketball. In their win over Wisconsin, they turned the ball over just four times. They also shot 50% from the field. The game before, against Michigan, they shot 53% from the field and turned it over 11 times. This isn’t a fluke.
I’ve talked up both teams now, which makes sense because they are the last two teams standing. Which team will hoist the trophy tonight?

Three Keys to the Game:
Both teams are good in close games. The fact that Kentucky has won by the smallest cumulative margin of any team that made the title game is now well known, and it’s true. Their last four wins have come by just 11 points combined, and the last two have come on three pointers from Aaron Harrison. UConn can win close games, too. If they take a lead, watch out, because they have shot 91 of 105 from the free throw line in the tournament. That’s 87%. And they also shot 78% for the season. If they have a lead late in the game, Kentucky won’t be able to catch them.
Turnovers. Again, UConn is lethal on the fast break. And they force a lot of turnovers with their pressure defense. But again, Kentucky turned it over just four times against Wisconsin, a team that plays defensively very differently, letting the offense come to them rather than pressuring the ball. Will UConn’s defensive pressure win out? Or will Kentucky’s offense?
Crashing the boards: The Florida Gators had 12 offensive rebounds against Connecticut. That wasn’t a fluke, because they are a bigger team than a small-ish UConn team. And if Connecticut had a tough time rebounding against Florida, they definitely have their work cut out against Kentucky, who are one of the best OREB teams in the entire NCAA. Again and again, offensive rebounding has bailed the Wildcats out, and it could well do so again against another smaller team.

7 Connecticut (31-8) vs 8 Kentucky (29-10):
Spread: Kentucky favored by 2.5
Remember, Connecticut just did a thing for a second time that Kentucky couldn’t do in three chances: beat Florida. They therefore fare well when it comes to looking at common opponents. It really comes down to how well each team can negate the other team’s greatest strength. Can Kentucky stop Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels? And can Connecticut stop Kentucky from getting second chance opportunity after second chance opportunity? That’s the key of the game. Connecticut wins 71-70. Because I want to be different and everyone is picking Kentucky.

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Comments
  1. dpcathena says:

    Pretty surprised by your prediction

  2. quadrangular says:

    He already said it: he wants to be different.

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