You would have gotten seriously good odds at the start of March Madness on a championship game featuring seventh-seed Connecticut and eighth-seed Kentucky. But now it’s a reality. The two teams face off at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, tonight live on CBS at 9:10 p.m.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kentucky’s the Favorite
Vegas oddsmakers make Wildcats the slight favorites, but UConn has thrived with the underdog tag so far in this tournament. Lineman Micah Roberts favors UK thanks to the team’s discipline in sticking to the game plan as well as a lack of turnovers. If you like UConn for the victory you should check out Paddy Power, which is offering odds of 135, giving you a profit of $1.35 for a $1 bet.
2. Both Teams Are Big Surprises
And UConn was nobody’s pick for postseason success after losses to SMU and Louisville. Results like that saw them wind up third in the American Athletic Conference.
3. This Could Be the Battle of the Guards
It’s Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison against UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. All three have already excelled in the tournament, but ow this is their biggest test. UK’s Harrison became the hero in the Final Four by scoring a 26-footer with 5.7 seconds left (watch the clip above) to give the Wildcats a 74-73 victory over Wisconsin. It’s not the first time he’s done that, either; against Michigan he hit the game-winning shot with two seconds left and against Louisville he did it with 39 seconds left.
On the other hand, there’s Shabazz Napier, described by the AP as the leader of UConn. Meanwhile, Ryan Boatright’s recent defensive displays have attracted huge plaudits. He’s keen to talk up the defensive aspects of his game:
Defense is the biggest thing for me. The points will come. I want to make him uncomfortable, don’t let him get in a rhythm or flow. Their guards, God blessed them with height and they will try to take advantage of smaller guys like us but I’ve been the smaller guy my whole life and I’ve never backed down.
Despite having a quieter game against Wisconsin, Shabazz Napier is still one of the most talked about college players of the year. In the Final Four, Napier didn’t shoot the ball much but still controlled much of the play. That’s something legendary UConn coach Jim Calhoun noticed, calling it “Shabazz’s game.”
4. Both Teams Missed the Dance Last Year
Neither team was in the NCAA tournament last year. UConn had been cited for academic issues. The college failed to meet NCAA standards and lost a scholarship. Some players took the opportunity to transfer, while others opted to stay. Will their loyalty be rewarded tonight? Kentucky’s reason for not making the tourney was purely based on lack of performance on the court.
5. One Coach Has Been Here Before; The Other Is an NBA Vet
This was the fourth time that UK coach John Calipari made the Final Four. Only once, in 2012, has he gone all the way to claim the NCAA Championship.
For UConn, this is the first time that coach Kevin Ollie has been to the March Madness dance as head coach. He was only appointed to the job in 2012 after two years as an assistant.
The relationship between Calipari and Ollie goes way back. The UK coach was at the 76ers as an assistant when Ollie played there. This was during Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson-inspired 2001 Finals run. A.I. even put out a message of support for Ollie.