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The Kentucky Wildcats and Connecticut Huskies met earlier this season at the Maui Invitational, and little did we know that this team that would go on to have a horrible record on the road and the other, which was unranked at the time, would be playing for the right to go to the National Championship Game. Check out how the Final Four odds stack up in this one!
Connecticut Huskies +2
Kentucky Wildcats -2
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Trends Of Note
Considering the fact that both of these teams ended up winning their conference tournaments this year, it’s no wonder why both have a heck of a lot of March Madness trends on their side in this one.
Kentucky has gone 5-1 ATS over the course of its last six games overall, and its only ATS loss in there was that escape from the Princeton Tigers in the first round of the tourney. UK is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 NCAA Tournament games as favorites. It is also 16-5-1 ATS in its last 22 games against Big East teams.
Connecticut has played six neutral site games in which it has been the underdog since the Big East Tournament, and it is a perfect 6-0 in those games. The Huskies are also 8-1 ATS since that magical run in the Big East Tournament started, and the lone failed attempt at a cover came against the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite 8. UConn is 7-2 ATS in its last nine NCAA Tournament odds battles and is 23-8 ATS in its last 31 games as an underdog. Head Coach Jim Calhoun and company are 19-7 ATS in their last 26 neutral site games overall and are 9-4 ATS in their last 13 against the SEC.
We’ve already mentioned the 84-67 win for UConn in this series at the Maui Invitational earlier this year, but there are also two other meetings that these teams have had since 2006. Kentucky won 64-61 at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic last season at Madison Square Garden, while the Huskies pulled out an 87-83 win in the NCAA Tournament when these teams met in 2006.
Players To Watch
For Connecticut, this is a simple game plan. Get the ball in Kemba Walker’s hands and let him do his thing. Walker can really do anything and everything that is asked of him. He has averaged 23.9 points, 5.3 boards, and 4.5 assists per game this year, and he already has 74 swipes of the rock as well on the defensive end of the court. This is the leading scorer amongst players left standing in this tournament, and save for perhaps BYU Cougars’ Jimmer Fredette, there is no man in this entire tournament that is more feared than Walker. He also has played all but six minutes during the dance for Calhoun and company.
There are really only six men in the rotation for the Wildcats this season, and though men like Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb tend to get all of the accolades, Josh Harrellson is really the difference maker this year on this team. For a man that, for all intents and purposes, was nothing more than a stiff at the outset of the season, Harrellson has come on strong and averaged 14.8 points and 9.0 boards per game in the dance. He’s coming up with the big plays in the paint over and over again, and Calipari knows that his team would be forgotten if not for the play of Harrellson.
Keys to the Game
Connecticut has to find some players to step up aside from Walker. Jeremy Lamb, just a freshman, has really matured beyond his years in the postseason this year. He carried the team in the win against the DePaul Blue Demons, and since that point, he has had nine straight double digit scoring games. Lamb is a heck of a shooter, and he is likely going to end up being the man that has to take this team over after Walker is gone, and whether it is him or Alex Oriakhi that is picking up the slack, one of them just has to help out Walker.
For Kentucky, the trick is going to be staying out of foul trouble. When Walker is cutting to the basket on a regular basis, he tends to be able to lure some fouls out of some of the most disciplined teams in the nation. The Wildcats just cannot afford to do stupid things, because the team just isn’t deep enough. Calipari complained about turnovers and dumb fouls about this team all season long, and if those issues rear their ugly heads again in this one like they were at times this year, the Cats are in a ton of trouble.