Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 March Madness: The Title Game

For how great this year's games have been, Saturday's Final Four match between Florida and Connecticut was surprisingly anticlimactic for most of the second half. Good thing we had Wisconsin - Kentucky still ahead! A few thoughts and a prediction for tonight (bet against it).

NOTE: I watched Florida - UConn on tape delay as I was attending sessions of #LDSconf - a highly recommended source of inspiration
I don't know what UConn does to  opposing offenses, but this is the second straight game where a veteran bunch running a proven system have seemed discombobulated against the Huskies D. Scottie Wilbelkin and Co. have gotten what they've wanted all tournament - pick-and-rolls that lead to layups, rim dives by the roll man, and a bevy of pie threes. Then undersized Huskies amp up the perimeter pressure and everything falls apart. Even the Gators' made baskets often came of incredible individual athleticism, the type of shots that aren't sustainable over 40 minutes. 

On offense, the Huskies took care of a few mistakes by the Florida half-court defense, and combined with a few opportune run-outs on offense, provided the catalyst for a lead the Gators couldn't surmount. That lead will be key for the Huskies tonight - for several straight games, Kevin Ollie's team have proven that they don't give up second half leads. If they can get some room tonight, expect Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels, and the UConn Huskies to take down the  nets. 

The problem the Huskies have to solve, one they haven't really faced all tournament, is that of Kentucky's size. Every time the Wisconsin Badgers would go on a run, every time they seemed to have the Wildcats offense solved, someone would come up with a offensive board and putback. This Wisconsin team had 5 full days to prepare for Kentucky's size and couldn't do it. Can UConn? The other thing about Kentucky that impressed me was Coach Calipari emploring his team in the second half to act like winners and to go to the rack. It's exactly what I would have told them. The ability to take the ball via pass or dribble from the high post near the 3 point line to the block without turning it over is the most valuable perimeter offensive skill. It's why I thought Trey Burke was the best of last year's rookie class (and still believe so). The Harrisons are great shooters, but Calipari's system is designed to give them space to attack the rim. That may be a problem for UConn - they have played great defense against teams using more inclusive offensive sets. A team that relies on individual brilliance may in a weird way work against them. 

As for the Badgers - what a game. This game did nothing to disprove the fact that Frank Kaminsky, a scrub from last year who can't crack the NBA draft's top 100, was the Final Four's most impactful player. He compromised Kentucky's defense with his existence, opening driving and passing lanes for his teammates. He competed and protected the rim on D despite not having the physical tools that will see the Kentucky frontcourt players drafted ahead of him. He was a joy to watch. 

Wisconsin also impressed me with their offensive discipline and patience. They nary took a poor shot - time after time, when a Badger dribbled into trouble, he would turn, pivot, and reset the ball at the top. Despite Kentucky bottling their best player for most of the game, Wisconsin submitted a masterful offensive performance. It's hard to get to the Final Four, but something tells me Bo Ryan will be back, soon. 

You have seen how pitiful my predictions have been. Yet, like Monty Python's black knight, I forge on. I've written both of these teams off so many times, to Michigan State, Wichita State, Louisville, Florida, and the like. You would think me learned by now, loathe to write one of them off again. But at that risk, I proclaim that the Kentucky Wildcats will vanquish the Connecticut Huskies and claim their 9th national title. I'm rooting for the Huskies. I love Shabazz Napier's story and Kevin Ollie's Ollieness. But Kentucky has size you can't coach, and their dribble drive offense is opening the court for the bigs. After two weeks of laser focus, the young Wildcats faltered in their last game - and still won. That's why I'm picking them in this one. Go on, Shabazz, Kevin, and DeAndre - prove me wrong. 

#YouMakeTheCalls #MarchMadness #YMTC

No comments:

Post a Comment