While not many people expected this matchup in the Final Four, this is clearly the side of the bracket that isn’t a complete shock to basketball fans around the country. The winner of this game will square off against either VCU or Butler in the title game on Monday night. Both Kentucky and UConn have young teams, but their coaches have plenty of experience in the Final Four. John Calipari is making his third appearance in the Final Four. Kentucky is the third different school that Calipari has taken to the Final Four. Jim Calhoun is making his fourth appearance in the Final Four, and each appearance has been with the Connecticut Huskies.
New Englanders know that Calipari and Calhoun have a long history of not getting along. It all started when Calipari was at UMass, and the discussions from early this week make it clear that neither coach cares much for the other even today. Which high-profile coach will lead their team to another National Championship Game?
How The Teams Got Here
Kentucky (29-8) upset the overall top seeded, Ohio State, on a Brandon Knight jump shot with five seconds left. The Wildcats then went on to hold off North Carolina in the Elite Eight. This is an extremely young team that struggled badly on the road during the regular season. It seems the team has really come together throughout the SEC Tournament and now the NCAA Tournament. While most people like to talk about the Wildcats ability on offense, it has been their defense that has carried them this far. Kentucky has allowed just 62 points per game so far in the NCAA Tournament.
UConn (30-9) has now won nine straight games. The Huskies were just 9-9 in the Big East during the regular season, but they won five straight to win the Big East Tournament in New York. Calhoun’s team has kept the momentum going in the NCAA Tournament. UConn built a nice lead on Arizona, but had to hold on and win at the last minute in their Elite Eight matchup. The Huskies also topped a strong San Diego State team in the Sweet 16. Kemba Walker is probably the best player in the country, and he has proved to be a great leader for this team.
Kentucky vs. UConn Betting Storylines
Both of these teams are young, and there will be plenty of freshmen on the court at all times on Saturday night. Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Knight are a major part of the Kentucky team. Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Roscoe Smith all play significant minutes for the Huskies. Lamb has stepped up and become the second scoring option for UConn over the last few games.
These two teams actually met early this year in Maui, when UConn crushed the Wildcats, 84-67. The Huskies built a 50-29 halftime lead and cruised the rest of the way. Kentucky’s youngsters weren’t familiar with the system at this point, and they have clearly made great strides since that game was played in late November.
Who will guard Walker in this game? No one knows exactly who Calipari will put on the UConn star. No matter who it is, however, they will have a tough assignment ahead of them. DeAndre Liggins has proven to be a great defender and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get quite a bit of time guarding Walker on Saturday.
The battle in the low post will be an interesting one as well. One of the key players in this great run at the end of the season for Kentucky has been senior Josh Harrellson. Harrellson averaged only four minutes per game last year, but he is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament. Can Harrellson and Jones help the Wildcats gain an advantage on the glass, or will Alex Oriakhi and the young frontcourt of UConn step up in this huge spot?
Kentucky vs. UConn Betting Odds and Trends
The current college basketball odds show Kentucky as a two-point favorite in this matchup. The posted total sits at 140 points.
UConn is 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games as an underdog. The Huskies are also 11-1 ATS in their last 12 games on a neutral court.
Kentucky is 18-9 ATS in their last 27 games against a Big East opponent.
The ‘under’ is 6-2 in Kentucky’s last eight NCAA Tournament games.
Final Four Picks: Kentucky vs. UConn Predictions
While UConn beat the Wildcats badly earlier this year, I give Kentucky the slight edge here. Kentucky should have a bit of an advantage on the inside, and their length should bother Walker and the UConn guards. Take Kentucky and give the points, and also take the ‘under’ in a game that should be well-played on the defensive end.