Sunday, April 6, 2014


Column: ’Cats, Huskies like cats, dogs


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.


Why not?


Andy Tweedy 6 years, 6 months ago

Tonight might be my introduction to the Voice, I just don't have it in me to watch this...

Tony Bandle 6 years, 6 months ago

By all means, take it in...the talent level makes American Idol look like a grade school casting call. The best part is the judges [Usher,Shelton, Levine and Shakira}. They are hilarious...just watching Shakira trying to speak English is a hoot!!

Hank Cross 6 years, 6 months ago

Give the Devil his due. IMO, the only team that had a tougher road to the National Championship than UK this year was Villanova in '85.

This game also puts KU fans in a weird rooting spot, If UConn wins, they will have more NCAA NC's than KU. OTOH it would be almost impossible for KU to catch UK in titles in my lifetime: so one more doesn't make a difference.

But, just can't root for UK - Go Huskies.

Tony Bandle 6 years, 6 months ago

My hope is that there is an outrageous 4 hour rain delay in St.Louis and the Cards/Cincy game doesn't start till 7:00 or so....otherwise.....Game of Thrones.

Dale Rogers 6 years, 6 months ago

Sorry, Keegan, but I'm allergic to sleaze. I wouldn't buy a used car from Calipari.

Michael Leiker 6 years, 6 months ago

This Final Four says a lot about the state of college basketball, you have to have a team completely full of one and dones or a group of older guys who have played together a long time. No in between seems to work very well.

Sam Constance 6 years, 6 months ago

What a crazy year.

Over the last decade, Pomeroy has tracked advanced metrics. Every year, the eventual national champ has ranked 21st or higher in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with only one year where a team's ranking was outside the top 20 (2009 UNC--21st in defensive eff). There have only been 3 instances of either offensive or defensive eff rating outside the top 15: 2011 UConn (18th in offense), 2009 UNC (21st in defense) and 2007 Florida (17th in defense).

The average offensive/defensive ranking of national champions over the last 11 season:

Offensive eff: 5.2 Defensive eff: 9.7

And this year we have 2 lopsided teams:

Kentucky, with stats obnoxiously similar to Kansas' stats earlier in the year, is predominantly offense, ranking 6th in offensive eff and 44th in defense. "Fun" fact, Kansas finished the season rated 34th in the country in defensive eff, which was up a good 10 spots from where we were near the end of the regular season. And it's not like UK has had an elite point guard this season. They just have some kid who has shot 100% on ill-advised shots from deep in the three most important shots of UK's season. It's especially frustrating when you remember back to how UK finished against Florida in the SEC title game: peeing down their leg and failing to even get a shot off. Apparently the answer was to stop trying for a good shot, and instead settle for a poor, open shot.

UConn, on the other hand, is the inverse, with a defensive eff ranked 10th in the country, but just an okay offense at 37th in eff. And while I'm not in love with the idea of UConn surpassing KU in terms of national titles given the extreme overemphasis there is on the NCAA tournament in this sport, the Huskies don't leave such a bitter taste in my mouth. They weren't the team that was picked #1 overall to start the season, played like a bunch of disinterested bums for the bulk of the season, then decided to play hard at the end and will now be rewarded by being remembered as one of the 2 best teams on college bball. The Huskies are a more true underdog story. First year coach. Plucky, undersized guard. Team that plays elite D together.

If they didn't have the "UCONN" name, they would be the obvious and easy choice to root for.

I love Bill Self, but I do hope he takes a lesson from this season. I'm all for a steady, consistent, safer approach during the regular season. But when the NCAA tournament rolls around, he has to be more responsive and imaginative when it comes to breaking outside of his comfort zone. Yes, that comfort zone will succeed more often than not, but in the NCAA tournament, there is no "more often than not". There is one game that must be won. Playing the odds no longer works. Aaron Harrison's stupid threes are proof positive of that.

Either way, the national champ this year will turn the trend of having the last 11 champions be near-elite level in both offense and defense completely on its head.

Tony Bandle 6 years, 6 months ago

Kentucky in the finals tonight simply, once again, proves the old adage.."it's better to be lucky than good."

The way this season has gone, UK who was an underdog or, at best, a slight favorite in the last four games, won. Tonight, as a big favorite to win, will lose.

Poetic justice would be for A.Harrison to blow a winning layup at the buzzer after hitting three 22 foot plus game-winning bombs!!

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