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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, April 7, 2014 at 9:50 AM

THE NCAA TOURNAMENT — FINALLY, IT’S TIME TO CROWN A CHAMPION AS #8 KENTUCKY VS. #7 UCONN TAKE CENTER STAGE IN “JERRY’S HOUSE”

By Jim Hurley

What a long strange trip, indeed!

Now maybe five or six months ago the thought of a Kentucky versus Connecticut showdown for the NCAA Tournament Championship Game might have made plenty of sense, but not after we all witnessed these clubs combine for a whopping 18 losses even before either one of these clubs put on their “dancin’ shoes”.

Still, here we are with an #8 seed battling a #7 seed — the highest-ever combined seeds total to play in a title tilt since such seed numbers were first applied way back in 1979 — and it’s mind-boggling to realize the minefields these teams had to navigate just to get here:

Let’s review …

Kentucky’s been the king of the last-second win in this tourney thanks to the dizzying display of clutch shooting by G Aaron Harrison, who has help power up John Calipari’s team to NCAA Tourney wins against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin the past three rounds and how ‘bout the fact that UConn has slayed the likes of Michigan State and Florida in its past couple of rounds?

The stage is set — it’s the final chapter in what’s been an amazing NCAA Tournament that has to go down as one of the two-or-three best in memory and — finally — the question of which one is a “team of destiny” gets answered this evening in the palace near Dallas a/k/a “Jerry (Jones) House”.

Let it rip!

NCAA TOURNAMENT — CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW
AT&T Stadium — Arlington, TX

#8 KENTUCKY (29-10) vs. #7 CONNECTICUT (31-8) — 9:12 p.m. ET, CBS

Gotta love all the pre-Championship Game analyses offered up by the various talking heads on ESPN, Fox and TNT (among other name media outlets) — on one hand we hear that Kentucky’s “size” will do a number on the Connecticut kids until you realize that similar things were said prior to the Huskies’ 63-53 win against defensively-sound Florida in the Final Four bash last Saturday.

Then you hear the talk about UConn guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright — a dynamic duo that combined for 29 points, 9 assists and only 3 turnovers versus the Gators — being too athletic to guard all over the floor until you figure out that Kentucky’s already beaten the backcourts of Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin and that quartet of college hoop teams may each have bragging rights to sporting the best guard group in the land.

In other words, Napier and Boatright may be riding a real wave while heading into this prime-time clash but the bigger/taller Harrison twins — that’s Andrew and Aaron — eventually “have had their way” with opposing backcourts and so you wonder why this game will be any different.

In their Final Four win against the Gators, the Connecticut grit showed up big-time as Kevin Ollie’s crew trailed 16-4 out of the starting gate and simply soared past Florida with F DeAndre Daniels (game-high 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds) proving to one-and-all that he’s an X-factor that packs a mean punch, but the $64,000 question here is can Daniels and Company keep the Kentucky kids off the offensive glass on this April evening?

Note that Florida snagged 11 offensive rebounds and nearly stormed back into that game with second-chance points and the Wildcats merely have lived off the offensive carom all tourney long with last Saturday’s 74-73 win against Wisconsin featuring 11 offensive boards with oft-overlooked C Dakari Johnson (five offensive boards) a major key there.

There’s been no hiding the fact that Calipari’s been begging his guards to drive and put the ball up on the glass where Johnson, the ultra-physical Julius Randle (16 points and 5 boards versus Wisconsin) and Alex Poythress (8 points and 7 boards against the Badgers and seemingly okay after tweaking his knee in a post-game celebration pile-up) do their jumping-jack best to toss up a put-back or swing it back out to the perimeter for an open “three” and so Connecticut absolutely has to limit the offensive rebs here.

If it’s double digits then Kentucky’s gonna be in a driver-seat position to win this game and the school’s ninth national championship but if Ollie’s guys can box out and keep Kentucky to, say, only five or six offensive boards here than the 3-point underdog Huskies have more than simply a puncher’s chance to win the school’s fourth title since 1999.

 MONDAY'S CHAMPIONSHIP
GAME GETS THE MONEY!

Connecticut vs. Kentucky (-2.5, 134.5)

Even with all the Cinderella stories over the years…there are usually a few powers that survive until the Final weekend…and then at least one is playing for the title. This year, it’s #7 Connecticut facing #8 Kentucky in the most shocking final ever! 

It’s hard to call UCONN and Kentucky Cinderella’s in the traditional sense because of their storied traditions. Kentucky just won a national title two years ago. Connecticut has a great Dance history too. But, THIS YEAR, something like this just wasn’t supposed to happen. But, game by game, both the Wildcats and Huskies dispatched with higher seeded threats.

From studying game tape, to crunching numbers, to running sophisticated simulation software, and checking with our sources close to the scene, Jim Hurley's Network has all the information necessary to get the cash Monday night. As a reminder, last year we got the money in the National Championship game with Louisville (-4) over Michigan, 82-76!

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Here’s what else to watch for this evening …

Kentucky really needs to get everyone involved offensively from the get-go here meaning the likes of lefty G James Young (17 big points against the Badgers) and the aforementioned Randle must keep the ‘Cats within reach should this SEC club get off to its usual slowish/sluggish start and a major key to success for Kentucky is keeping that shooting percentage at or around 50 percent.

As we told you in last week’s Final Four Previews here at Jim Sez, the Wisky Badgers probably were not going to win a game in which Kentucky shot 50 percent or better and sure enough the ‘Cats connected on 29-of-58 field-goal tries for 50 percent.

Okay, so we know if that Traevon Jackson’s running jumper would have fallen at the buzzer for the Badgers the other night, that bit of stat trivia would have been tossed out with the morning trash but the fact is Kentucky’s been winning these tournament games while shooting 50 percent or better and common sense dictates the only way to beat them is to get that percentage lowered a bit.

Okay, so UConn’s defensive mindset and aggressive nature might just make for a perfect match against this freshmen-laden Kentucky team but be sure that the Huskies must do the following if they’re gonna snare the upset call here:

Connecticut must make a solid percentage of their three-ball tries — in the 10-point win against Florida two days ago the American Athletic Conference crew shot 5-of-12 from trey-land and we contend that Napier, Wainwright and standstill shooter Niels Giffey (0-for-2 beyond the arc against Florida and just awful in the Elite 8 win at Madison Square Garden versus Michigan State) have to think about taking/making more triples here plus the Huskies are gonna need some strong minutes from their bench which played an underrated key part in that national semifinal win against 7-point fav Florida … did you really think relative unknown G Terrance Samuel (four points and some major energy in an extensive 18 minutes of playing time) was gonna be that important to Ollie’s club in that clash?

 On the flip side, the ‘Cats are counting on more great bench play from Poythress and F/C Marcus Lee and check out how “Coach Cal” substitutes here because if he’s spreading the minutes ‘round early then UConn better have its collective legs late … or else.

Okay, so why does this one have the feel of another down-to-the-wire affair with either Aaron Harrison or UConn’s Napier having a shot to win (or tie) things late with a perimeter “J”.

Just sayin’!

Now, here’s the Kentucky Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament path to the Championship Game…

KENTUCKY

DATE WINNER  SPREAD LOSER   SCORE
3-21 Kentucky - 6.5 Kansas State 56-49
3-23 Kentucky + 4.5 Wichita State 78-76
3-28 Kentucky  + 4   Louisville 74-69
3-30  Kentucky - 2.5  Michigan 75-72
4-5  Kentucky Pick  Wisconsin  74-73

 

Now, here’s the UConn Huskies’ NCAA Tournament path to the Final Four …

CONNECTICUT

DATE WINNER  SPREAD LOSER   SCORE
3-20  Connecticut    - 5  St. Joseph’s 89-81
3-22  Connecticut  + 4.5 Villanova 77-65
3-28 Connecticut Pick Iowa State 81-76
3-30  Connecticut + 5 Michigan State 60-54
4-5  Connecticut + 7  Florida  63-53

And now hear this …

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have steamrolled their way through the entire NCAA Tournament and now it’s time to cap the “Big Dance” with tonight’s Side & Totals action behind Kentucky versus Connecticut.

Get in now on the NCAA Tournament Championship Game — just go online here at www.vegassportsmasters.com or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-888-777-4155 and we’ll send you straight into the winner’s circle.

Hey, we’re also banging out lots of NBA and Major-League Baseball Winners too these days and so go ahead and join the fun and profits today with all the hardwood action this month.

Finally, take note of how the major conferences have fared spread-wise in this year’s tournament while heading into tonight’s championship game:

CONFERENCE RECORD PCT.
SEC  10-2-2 .833
American Athletic 7-4-0 .636
Pac-12 7-7-0 .500
Big 10 6-7-2 .461
ACC 5-6-1 .454
Big East 2-4-0 .333
Big 12 4-10-0 .286

Overall, the so-called power conferences are a collective 41-40-5 ATS (against the spread) for a .506 winning rate … not as good as you might’ve thought, right?

Note: Get our NCAA Championship Game Re-Cap in tomorrow’s edition of Jim Sez.

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