What an absolutely epic run by the University of Kentucky in the 2014 NCAA tooney.
Left for dead by yours truly (and just about everybody else with a pulse), this UK team led and owned by frosh has done a 360 with performance in the dance.
Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress and Julius Randle have put on quite a show. Let's not forget the play of arguably UK's go to offensive player James Young as well as the emergence of Dakari Johnson.
With one game left on Monday night—it’s time to break down the matchup.
I have seen UConn play four times this season in depth. I watched them get absolutely blown out by Louisville twice and now have seen them twice beat Florida.
They have hands down the best college backcourt in the country. Shabazz Napier is a clone of Kemba Walker but with better floor vision, and Ryan Boatwright is a clone of Eric Bledsoe. Both can expose their defender off the dribble and also pull from 25 feet and dagger you.
Both play sensational on the ball-pesky defense and love to take away passing angles into the lane. They are really good at forcing you to take perimeter jump shots. They are both smallish guards and UK perimeter players should have no trouble shooting over them. I do have concerns the Harrisons will be able to get to the rack freely.
On the wings UConn has two guys who can punish you—Niels Giffey a 5th year sharp shooter and emerging force and ex-UK recruit DeAndre Daniels.
Giffey likes to float on the perimeter and get kick out wing and baseline 3-point shots. Both Boatwright and Napier are sensational at finding open shooters off dribble penetration. Daniels is long and lean and can score in the post and from the wing. He is a really good weak-side offensive rebounder and UKs bigs will have to block him out. He is skinny and no real match for the girth of Randall-Poythress or Johnson on the interior defensively. UK will really need to focus their efforts on limiting Giffey's wide open looks.
UConn's other post players are really just role guys. They have a young shot blocker off the bench but nobody who is going to come in unexpectedly and do damage a la Marcus Lee.
The Keys to this game will be the following:
- How do the Harrisons perform under sticky ballhawking defensive pressure? Andrew Harrison has a poor handle, and he has been given fits at times by smaller quicker players. Will Boatwright and Napier saddle UK’s perimeter defenders with fouls due to their quickness and penetration ability? Free throws may play a huge role in this game and neither team statistically shoots well (although both have been great in the tooney).
- How does UConn stop UK from scoring at will in the post? UConn on paper does not have the size, girth or depth to stop UK's interior beasts. But can UK effectively enter the ball into the post vs. UConn's matchup zone and man to man?
- James Young. UConn has nobody to guard him defensively because Daniels will be guarding bigger players and Giffey isn’t quick or athletic enough. If he can penetrate and get to the hole early, it should really open up the wings for weak side rebounding where UK's size and athleticism will be the difference.
- UK not getting lulled into a perimeter shooting contest like Michigan State. UConn flusters you into shooting from the gaps in their zone. Sometimes ball movement and reversal is key even if it means not taking the first open look.
This game is tough to predict.
UConn is really hot right now but UK's run to get there has been tougher. When the stage is as big as an NCAA final, it’s best to choose the team with the most answers.
UConn has two players under 6-2 and one 6-8 player who can be an "answer."
UK has seven guys (all 6-5 or taller) who the NBA hotly covets. I will choose the team with more potential answers even if they are freshmen.
I don’t think this game will be like the white knucklers of the past three, but it will be around a 5 to 8 point margin thru out.
#9 is coming!