On Monday night, one of the wildest NCAA tournaments in recent memory will culminate with a championship game nobody predicted. Here's a look at the factors that may decide the Kentucky-UConn matchup
How the Huskies got here: Won the East Regional by defeating No. 10 St. Joseph's, No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State and No. 4 Michigan State. Then beat No. 1 Florida in the national semifinals.
How the Wildcats got here: Won the Midwest Regional by defeating No. 9 Kansas State, No. 1 Wichita State, No. 4 Louisville, No. 2 Michigan. Then beat No. 2 Wisconsin in the national semifinals.
Did you know? This title game features the highest combination of seeds in NCAA tournament history. In the 35 years since the selection committee began assigning seeds in 1979, the previous highest combination was 11 when No. 3 UConn and No. 8 Butler met in 2011.
Three keys to the game:
1. Can UConn keep Kentucky off the offensive glass? Kentucky is the nation's best offensive rebounding team, featuring a stable of big men who gobble up boards, from powerful Julius Randle, to space-eating Dakari Johnson, to bouncy Marcus Lee. UConn is 267th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and sometimes plays a small lineup in which onetime 6-foot-9 small forward Deandre Daniels is the biggest player on the floor.
As a result, how much the Huskies can minimize the impact of that mismatch could be a huge key to their chances of pulling another upset Monday night.
Kentucky has parlayed its size, strength and athleticism into numerous second-chance opportunities, collecting a national-best 42.5 percent of its misses during the season and an astonishing 63 percent of its misses in a three-point Elite Eight win over Michigan. A similar percentage against UConn might be fatal for the Huskies.
2. Will UConn's smaller, quicker guards neutralize the Harrison twins? One of the common threads in UConn's NCAA tournament victories of late has been its ability to neutralize opposing point guards. Small, quick Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier deliver relentless pressure, either creating turnovers or preventing teams from getting into their offense.
Iowa State's Deandre Kane needed 18 shots to get 16 points in the Sweet 16. Michigan State’s Keith Appling tallied two points and four turnovers in the Elite Eight. And Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin had as many turnovers (three) as baskets and assists combined in Saturday's Final Four showdown.
The size of the Harrison twins makes Monday's matchup more compelling. Can they overpower Boatright and Napier attacking the rim? Will their length bother Boatright and Napier on offense? Or can Boatright and Napier use their diminutive stature to their advantage to pressure the ball and force turnovers?
3. Will Deandre Daniels continue to be an effective secondary scorer? Brilliant as Shabazz Napier has been throughout this NCAA tournament, his play has been only marginally better than it was during the regular season. One of the biggest reasons the Huskies have gotten better in the postseason is that other guys such as Daniels have stepped up.
In five NCAA tournament games, Daniels is averaging 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds, a significant increase over his inconsistent production in American Athletic Conference play. The 6-foot-9 junior scorched Florida's vaunted defense for 20 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday night as the Huskies upset the favorites to capture the national title.
When Daniels and Boatright score consistently, it makes UConn more difficult to defend because it can spread the floor and make teams pay for keying on Napier. The Huskies need Napier to produce more than he did against Florida but they also need their secondary scores to come through too.
Quote to note: "A lot of guys shy away from the moment, and he's not one of those guys. Hopefully it doesn't come down to his shot, and if it does, we're going to make sure that we move him away from that left side where he's been knocking down that shot consistently." -- UConn guard Shabazz Napier on Aaron Harrison's late-game proficiency. Harrison has won Kentucky's last two games with left-wing threes in the final seconds.
Prediction: Kentucky 68, UConn 63
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