All eyes will be on the two so-called Cinderella teams of this tournament -- Butler and VCU -- this weekend during the Final Four. And so, yet again, the University of Connecticut Huskies and Kentucky Wildcats will partake in what is sure to be one of the best games of the postseason (on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. EDT) with less fanfare than these two storied programs are used to getting.
Jim Calhoun leads his Connecticut squad into this Final Four as the most experienced coach remaining in the tournament. With four such trips on his resume, he’ll use his past hits and misses to draw up a new game plan for a Huskies team that has systematically destroyed every team in its way thus far – without taking a break.
This Connecticut group ripped through the Big East tournament with five wins in five days to close out the season and rolled all the way to the West Region to kick off March Madness. From there, they beat Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State and Arizona. Overall, UConn has put together nine straight wins – a mark that goes along nicely with a 12-0 record in neutral site games.
Offensively, the Huskies will aim to maintain their seasonal averages. On the year, they have put up a little over 73 points per game, while shooting nearly 44 percent from the floor. They’re also solid on the offensive glass, nabbing 39.4 offensive rebounds per game.
The team’s on-the-court leader and arguably the best player in the country, Kemba Walker, will look to continue his impressive run against Kentucky. On the season, he’s averaging almost 24 points per game and makes any and all defenders look absolutely silly. Part of the reason for that, though, is the solid contribution he gets from his supporting cast. Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi average 11.1 and 9.6 points per game, respectively.
Kentucky, meanwhile, enters this Final Four match-up as somewhat of a surprising story. While head coach John Calipari is no stranger to getting this far in the tournament -- having led three different teams to Final Fours in his career -- this was probably the quietest bunch he’s ever led. And after the non-stop media headlines he had with last year’s dazzling, freshmen-led unit, the former Memphis coach may finally be realizing that experience and solid play trumps the hype and fanfare which comes with one-and-done rookies.
The Wildcats put together an impressive run to close out February getting 12 victories in 13 games played. Playing the sixth toughest schedule in the nation for the year, Kentucky went 11-1 in games played at neutral sites. Along their way to getting to this point, the Cats beat Princeton, West Virginia, Ohio State and North Carolina by both surprisingly high and low margins.
On the offensive end, this group is posting a little over 75 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting from the floor. They aren’t as solid on the offensive glass as their Connecticut counterparts, however, grabbing 37.4 rebounds per game. Defensively, though, Kentucky has been able to hold its opponents to just under 64 points per game on 39.3 percent shooting.
Led by Brandon Knight, who is averaging 17.3 points per game, this Kentucky group has the ability to explode on the offensive end at any time. Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb are going to be key against the Huskies, looking to match or better their 15.8 and 12.3 point per game averages, respectively, for the year.
While the VCU-Butler game may make for the better Dark Horse story, the better basketball will be played in this particular game. Both of these teams deserve to be here, and the coaching battle between Calhoun and Calipari is definitely one to keep an eye on.