Here’s the beauty of tonight’s matchup for the college basketball national title: It blows to bits every theory about what it takes to make it to the season’s final night.
It takes an army of one-and-done superstars and a brash veteran college basketball coach who has taken multiple schools to the Final Four. Just look at Kentucky if you believe otherwise. The Wildcats will start five freshmen tonight for John Calipari, who no matter what the official record book says coached UMass and Memphis to the Final Four and won it all with Kentucky in 2012.
No, wait. It takes a veteran lineup with great guards (Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright).
UConn starts a sophomore, two juniors and two seniors. It also requires a coach with recent NBA playing experience. Coaching experience is not a requirement. Don’t believe that? Then how did Kevin Ollie, an NBA player as recently as the 2009-2010 season, when he played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, his 12th team (11th franchise, he also played for the Seattle SuperSonics), make it? Coaching experience? He was an assistant to Jim Calhoun for one year and is in his second year as head coach of his alma mater. He’s the Fred Hoiberg of the East.
It takes a starting lineup loaded with protypical NBA bodies to play for the national title. Kentucky’s perimeter players stand 6-foot-6, 6-6, 6-6, and the post players check in at 6-9 and 7-feet. UConn measures 6-foot, 6-1, 6-7, 6-9, 6-10. Average weight of Kentucky’s five starters: 233 pounds; UConn: 192 pounds. Napier, generously listed at 6-1, led the Huskies in rebounding with 5.8 per game.
You don’t get to the title game unless you consistently win the battle of the boards. Kentucky ranks second in the nation a plus-9.7 rebounding margin. Oops, UConn (plus-0.4) isn’t close to being the best rebounding team in the nutmeg state. That honor belongs to Quinnipiac (first in the nation).
In today’s game, accurate three-point shooting is a must. UConn ranks in the top 25 in the nation with a .389 accuracy rate. But, wait, Kentucky’s not in the top 200 at .334.
So no real point in the analysts discussing which team will win and why. Will it be the Huskies, who used to be the bad guys when the cranky Calhoun was coaching them? Or will it be the Wildcats, coached by the brazenfaced Calipari, who does such a magnificent job of playing the archvillian, so much so that some refuse to acknowledge his phenomenal coaching record. He’s just a recruiter, remember? That’s why when Calipari called a timeout 59 seconds into the second half Saturday vs. Wisconsin, his players responded to what he said and how he said it by going on a 15-0 run.
Only the combination of Calipari and Kentucky — a marriage made in humility hell — could turn UConn, winner of three of the past 15 national championships, into the little engine that could.
Tonight’s final score: Kentucky 73, UConn 62.