After three weeks of intense games between 68 teams, you might say that it's finally come down to a pair of four-legged mascots battling for an NCAA title Monday night.
The Huskies of the University of Connecticut take to the floor of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to meet the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky for the ultimate bragging rights at the end of the 2013-2014 college basketball season.
The game will be televised by CBS, beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern time.
Despite winning 20 games last year, UConn wasn't in the NCAA tournament due to academic probation. This season, second-year head coach Kevin Ollie built on the foundation that was laid out and has led this team to the cusp of a national title.
The Huskies have been paced by a terrific twosome in their backcourt, guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Napier had been a scoring dynamo in earlier tournament games. But the senior from Boston's Roxbury neighborhood was content to distribute the basketball to his teammates in Saturday night's semifinal win over the University of Florida. Boatright scored 13 points for the Huskies, but more importantly caused havoc for the Gators guards on the defensive end. Junior forward DeAndre Daniels has continued his tournament star turn, with 20 points and 10 rebounds versus Florida.
Coming off a forgettable season one year ago that saw them lose in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, Kentucky head coach John Calipari recruited another talented freshman class and went to work. The youngsters had some bright moments early in the season, but then the Wildcats hit a rough patch after the first of the new year and fell out of the national rankings.
Coaching adjustments were made in time for the Southeastern Conference tournament and the extra work has paid off here in the postseason. Power forward Julius Randle has been dominant in the middle. His freshman classmate Aaron Harrison has made some of the biggest baskets in the history of the NCAA tournament the last three games, including Saturday night's game-winning three against the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
Looking at Monday night's matchup, as in most NCAA tournaments from the past, it will come down to the guards. Who can hit open shots from the perimeter and also feed their teammates the ball in optimal scoring positions will determine a champion. Randle vs. Daniels will more than likely be a wash – each will score points and grab rebounds. Perhaps because they're freshmen and they don't know any better, Kentucky's bigger backcourt of six-foot-six twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison may create just enough space on the floor to produce enough points and edge UConn for the Wildcats's ninth national championship.
Predictions from the experts vary on this championship game. Nate Silver's FivetThirtyEight statistical blog has the UConn-UK game a toss-up. Chris Rolling of the Bleacher Report has UConn's veteran moxie winning out over Kentucky's ferocious freshmen. And Jack Jorgenson of FanSided.com also picks UConn's experience over Kentucky's exuberance. As always, the NCAA championship game highlights two worthy teams going toe-to-toe for a title.