College Basketball National Championship Betting Preview: #8 Kentucky Wildcats vs #7 Connecticut Huskies

2014 NCAA Tournament
National Championship Game

AT&T Stadium – Arlington, Texas
#8 Kentucky Wildcats vs #7 Connecticut Huskies
Monday, April 7, 2014, 9:10 pm Eastern, TV: CBS
Opening Line: Kentucky -3
Current Line: Kentucky -2 1/2
Opening Total: 133 1/2
Current Total: 134 1/2
Opening Money Line: Kentucky -160 / Connecticut +135
Current Money Line: Kentucky -145 / Connecticut +125

Kentucky and Connecticut meet for the National Championship Monday night in Arlington. Kentucky is a 2.5 point favorite.
Kentucky and Connecticut meet for the National Championship Monday night in Arlington. Kentucky is a 2.5 point favorite.

Last season, neither the Kentucky Wildcats nor the Connecticut Huskies even made the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky was upset in the first round of the NIT after winning the 2012 NCAA Championship. Connecticut was not eligible for the tournament due to not reaching NCAA academic standards.

Even as late as early March this season, there was little indication two of college basketball’s most decorated programs would make a serious run in the tournament. Both were given mid-range seeds in the tournament. However, the 29-10 Wildcats and 31-8 Huskies did just that and will meet Monday night for the National Championship in Arlington, Texas. The two schools have won 6 of the last 18 national championships.

Connecticut is looking for their fourth national championship since 1999, and is 3-0 all time in championship game appearances. Ironically, the Huskies’ last two national championships also came in the state of Texas, in 2004 in San Antonio and 2011 in Houston. Kentucky is making their 12th all-time appearance in championship games, and looking for their 9th national title.

Connecticut leads the series against Kentucky 3-1. The two schools last met in the 2011 Final Four. The Huskies won 56-55 in that game before beating Butler in the National Championship.

Kentucky went 12-6 in the SEC and tied for second with Georgia behind 18-0 Florida. Kentucky lost to Florida 61-60 in the SEC Championship game. The Wildcats were given the #8 seed in the Midwest region. Kentucky beat #9 seed Kansas State 56-49  in the second round and then upset #1 seed Wichita State 78-76 in the third round in St. Louis. The Shockers were 35-0 heading into that game. In the Midwest regionals in Indianapolis, Kentucky beat in-state rival #4 seed Louisville 74-69 in the semifinals. The Wildcats beat #2 seed Michigan 75-72 in the regional final to advance to the Final Four for the third time in the last 4 seasons.

The Wildcats faced West Champion #2 seed Wisconsin in the Final Four Saturday. The game was back and forth throughout. Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison hit a go-ahead 3 pointer with 5.7 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 74-73 lead. He also hit go-ahead/game winning threes against Louisville and Michigan, both with under 39 seconds left. Badger guard Traevon Jackson missed a good look at a jumper at the buzzer for Wisconsin that would have won the game. Kentucky has won all five of their tournament games by a combined 18 points.

Connecticut went 12-6 in the American Athletic Conference and were part of a 3 way tie for third. The Huskies lost to Louisville 71-61 in the AAC Championship game. UConn was given the #7 seed in the East Region for the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies beat #10 seed St. Joseph’s 89-81 in overtime in the second round and #2 Villanova 77-65 in the third round. Both of those games were in Buffalo. In the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden, Connecticut beat #3 Iowa State 81-76. The Huskies would then beat #4 Michigan State 60-54 in the East Regional Final to advance to the fifth Final Four in program history. UConn has gone 14-3 in their last 17 games.

In the Final Four, the Huskies faced South Champion and #1 overall seed Florida. The Gators took a 16-4 lead early in that game. However, UConn closed the first half on a 21-6 run and would never trail again. The Huskies would go on to win 63-53. Florida had won 30 straight games before Saturday, and the last loss also came to UConn.

Kentucky is coached by John Calipari. The Wildcats have losses to Michigan State in Chicago, Baylor in Arlington, TX, at North Carolina, Arkansas twice, at LSU, Florida 3 times, and at South Carolina. Kentucky has key wins over Robert Morris, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan, Providence in Brooklyn, Boise State, Belmont, Louisville, Mississippi State twice, at Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Georgia twice, at Missouri, Ole Miss twice, at Auburn, LSU twice, and Alabama. Kentucky is 19-15-3 ATS and the total is 16-19-1 this season.

Kentucky is outscoring teams 75-67 this season. The Wildcats are shooting 45.4% from the field and 33.2% from 3 point range. Kentucky makes 68.5% of their free throws. Opponents are shooting 41% from the field and 32% from 3 point range. Kentucky is #58 or better in both categories nationally. The Wildcats average 40.6 rebounds per game and opponents average 27.2 per game. Kentucky is #6 in rebounding and #15 in rebounds allowed nationally. The Wildcats average 11.2 assists, 12.2 turnovers, 4.7 steals and 6.1 blocks per game. Opponents average 10.4 assists, 10.8 turnovers, 5.8 steals and 3.1 blocks per game.

Forward Julius Randle averages 15.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists. Randle rolled his ankle in the first half against Wisconsin, but played well in the second half. He will play against UConn. He is expected to be a high lottery pick in the NBA Draft. Forward/guard James Young averages 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists. Guard Aaron Harrison averages 14.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. His twin brother Andrew averages 11 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Forward Willie Cauley-Stein  averages 6.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.9 blocks per game. He injured his ankle in the first half against Louisville and missed the Michigan and Wisconsin games. He will also miss the game Monday. Alex Poythress and and Dakari Johnson will also get significant minutes.

Connecticut is coached by Kevin Ollie. The Huskies have losses to Stanford, at Houston, SMU twice, Louisville three times, and at Cincinnati. UConn has key wins over Maryland in Brooklyn, Yale, Detroit, Boston University, Boston College and Indiana (both in New York City), Florida, at Washington, Harvard, Central Florida twice, Memphis three times, Temple twice, Rutgers twice, Houston, South Florida twice, and Cincinnati twice. UConn is 22-15 ATS and the total is 13-23 this season.

Connecticut is outscoring teams 72-64 this season. The Huskies are #38 nationally in points allowed. UConn is shooting 44.8% from the field, but are #28 nationally in three point shooting at 38.9% from beyond the arc. The Huskies are #5 in the country in free throw shooting at 77.4% from the line. Connecticut opponents are shooting 39.2% from the field and 33.3% from 3 point range. The Huskies are #13 nationally in field goal defense. UConn averages 35.1 rebounds per game and opponents average 30.4 per game. The Huskies average 12.3 assists, 11.4 turnovers, 7 steals and 5.8 blocks per game. Opponents average 11.6 assists, 13 turnovers, 5.8 steals and 3.2 blocks per game.

UConn guard Shabazz Napier averages 18.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Napier is the AAC player of the year. Forward DeAndre Daniels averages 13 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. Guard Ryan Boatright averages 12 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Guard/forward Niels Giffey averages 8.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Omar Calhoun, Lasan Kromah, Phillip Nolan, and Amidah Brimah will also get significant minutes in the rotation. Brimah averages 2.3 blocks per game. Little used guard Pat Lenehan is questionable for undisclosed reasons.

Kentucky is 7-0-1 ATS against teams with winning records and overall, 5-0-1 after a straight up win, in NCAA Tournament games, and in non-conference games, 8-1-2 in neutral site games, and 7-3-1 in Monday games.

Connecticut is 6-0 ATS in non-conference games, 5-0 against teams with winning records and overall, 4-0 after a straight up win and a cover, 14-3 in NCAA Tournament games, 26-10 in neutral site games, 5-2 against SEC teams, and 1-4-1 in Monday games. The underdog has covered all four games in this series.

This game is a contrast in styles. Kentucky starts five freshmen and has one of the best front courts in the nation. Connecticut is loaded with seniors and Napier is one of the best guards in the nation. Both teams have certainly earned their way to the championship game, by beating almost every pre-tournament favorite. The Wildcats have trailed by 9 or more points in their last four tournament games this season, and came back to win each time. I think it will be another close win for the young Wildcats.

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