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Mon, 04/07/14 - 9:10 PM Andy Iskoe | CBB Sides
triple-dime bet 601 Kentucky -2.5 (-110) Hilton vs 602 UConn
Results: L, -$330
Tonight's NCAA Championship game between Kentucky and Connecticut is a compelling matchup and a challenging and tricky handicap on several levels. The first thing that comes to mind is the following contrast.
UConn defeated Florida twice this season -- the same Florida team that defeated Kentucky 3 times.
BUT . . .
Kentucky defeated Louisville twice this season -- the same Louisville team that defeated UConn 3 times.
Since 1997, a span of 17 Tournaments, the pointspread has come into play just once in the Title game, and that was four seasons ago when Duke, favored by 6 1/2 points, defeated Butler 61-59.
In the other 16 Finals the SU winner has also covered the spread. Of those 16 winners 12 were favored to win (by from 1 to 7 1/2 points). The other 4 winners were underdogs (of from 2 to 9 1/2 points). Ironically, UConn was one of those underdog winners, defeating Duke 77-74 as 9 1/2 point underdogs to win the 1999 Title, the first of the Huskies 3 Titles.
Interestingly, since the Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, UConn's win in 1999 capped the least formful Tournament in the 30 Tournaments since 1985. In that Tournament the higher seeded teams were 38-23 SU for just 62.3% winners. The Title game and one of the two Final Four games involved teams with equal seeds.
This season's Tournament ranks second to the 1999 Tournament in being least formful and the higher seeded teams are just 40-22 SU (64.5%).
FYI, the Tournament that went most according to seeding form was in 2007 when the higher seeded team won 80.6% of the games (50-12), followed closely by 1993 at 80.3% (49-12).
There are many things to like about both Kentucky and UConn but each team also has major areas of concern. UConn has been an excellent free throw shooting team all season and during the Tournament which could aid the Huskies if they are playing to protect a lead in the waning moments of the game. The Huskies are heavily reliant on the backcourt of Napier and Boatright although others have stepped up in the Tournament. Still, Kentucky is universally considered as having the more talented team, with more NBA prospects. The Wildcats have a very young team -- they played 7 freshmen on Saturday. Of course, at this time, freshmen have enough experience to no longer be considered as freshmen. Unlike Connecticut, Kentucky is not a good free throw shooting team which makes it tougher for them to protect a late lead when and if the foul fest of the final few minutes begins.
Kentucky has an edge on the bench with John Calipari already having won a National Title just 2 seasons ago, in 2012. That Title came just one season after UConn won the third of its Titles. But that UConn team was coached by Jim Calhoun. Kevin Ollie, an assistant to Calhoun and a former UConn player, succeeded Calhoun as coach prior to the 2012-13 season, a season during which UConn was on probation and ineligible for post-season play.
Ultimately the preference is for Kentucky. The Wildcats have played 5 very competitive games to reach this game, winning by 7, 2, 5, 3 and 1. They have wins over 3 of the 4 teams to make last season's Final Four (Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan). And although they did lose 3 times to Florida their most recent meeting, in the SEC Championship game, came down to the final possession of a 61-60 loss. Kentucky is not reliant on any single player as much as UConn is reliant on Napier more than any of his teammates. Kentucky is also a very physical game -- the win over Wisconsin was a bruising battle. The Wildcats' multiple scoring options gives them enough edges should any of their shooters have an off night.
BUT . . as stated at the outset, this is a tricky handicap. Kentucky was the top ranked team in the preseason and for most of the regular season they looked anything but an elite team. But the 'Cats saved their best for when it counts most. The "mes" became a "we" and team chemistry finally gelled.
At minus 2 1/2, and considering the rarity with which the points come into play in the Finals, the pick is for Kentucky to win and cover.

Pick Made: Apr 7 2014 2:36PM PST
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