Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle

National Title Game Primer: Five thoughts on Kentucky vs. UConn


ARLINGTON, Texas — It all comes down to one game.

On Monday evening, college basketball’s national champion will be crowned as UConn, the champions of the East Region despite being a No. 7 seed, and Kentucky, who has made their run as the No. 8 seed in the Midwest. It’s the highest-ever combined seed of two teams in the title game, with No. 3 UConn’s 2011 win over No. 8 Butler being the second-highest.

It’s weird to think about it like that, as these are two of the best basketball programs in the country. Kentucky is Kentucky, they’re a blueblood that was won eight national titles in their history. UConn? They’ve won three national titles and been to five Final Fours in the last 15 years.

But that has nothing to do with this regular season, where UConn finished tied for third in the American with SMU and Kentucky spent the first four months of the season spinning their tires. It may not sound like it if you haven’t been paying attention this season, but this really is a fluky title game.

Here are five more thoughts on what should be an epic title game:

1. Kentucky will, once again, have a massive front court advantage: The knock on UConn this season has been that their front court simply isn’t all that strong. They’ve got some length and they’ve got some shot blockers, but Amida Brimah and DeAndre Daniels aren’t going to be winning any Mr. Universe competitions any time soon. Kentucky’s front court is as big, as strong and as physically talented as they come. Brimah, and Phil Nolan, will be tasked with guarding Dakari Johnson. Daniels is going to have to matchup with Julius Randle. And when Kentucky goes big and plays Alex Poythress at the three, that defensive responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Niels Giffey. UConn better be ready to box out.

2. But UConn’s guards should wreak havoc once again: Ryan Boatright is a pest. He’s a nuisance. He’s a 5-foot-11 gnat that won’t leave opposing ball-handlers alone, a defensive nightmare that turned Michigan State into Creighton on an off-night and made Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin look like he doesn’t know. (If you got that reference without clicking the link, we should be friends.) He and Shabazz Napier will be tasked with guarding the Harrison twins, and while UK will once again have a size advantage there, this will be beneficial for UConn. Bigger, slower guards don’t like trying to dribble against quick guards with quicker hands.

3. The coach that wins chess match wins the title: Whoever better takes advantage of the mismatch at their disposal will win, but it’s not going to be that simple. Kevin Ollie knows that Kentucky’s bigs are physically overwhelming, and John Calipari knows that UConn’s guards can swarm defensively. Who makes the adjustment? Who comes up with the better game plan? What stroke of genius makes Coach Cal a two-time champ, or earns Kevin Ollie his first ring?

4. These runs has made a few of people a lot of money: DeAndre Daniels is now a first round pick. He might be a lottery pick. He’s probably gone. Three weeks ago, the Harrison twins looked like they would be returning to school. Now, it would be surprising if they didn’t enter the draft.

5. This is the flukiest title game I can remember: I’ll have more on this coming tomorrow,but think about this: UConn beat St. Joseph’s in overtime because a) Amida Brimah scored an and-one to tie the game in the final seconds and b) Halil Kanicevic fouled out on the first possession in overtime. Kentucky is in the title game after hitting four game-winning threes in their last tournament games.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.