Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle

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

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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.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.