Huskies and Wildcats prove how maddening it is to pick a team to win NCAA title.
And then there were two. But has March Madness ever seen a Final Two as unlikely as this pairing?
Unranked Kentucky vs. 18th-ranked Connecticut.
A No. 8 seed vs. a No. 7 seed.
The Wildcats vs. the Huskies.
So you know now why the odds of putting together a perfect bracket were 9.2 quintillion-to-1. A man dares not dream about a title game that includes two teams as low in the final Associated Press rankings as these were.
Yet we ought to expect the unexpected at this time of the basketball season. For one-and-done takes on a different meaning when it refers to a season rather than a young man’s career. The road to the Finals is rocky for teams that can’t steer around trouble.
And trouble finds any team that sees a championship ahead of it. Ask Florida or Arizona or Michigan State or Wichita State or Wisconsin or Kansas or Louisville. All are back on campus; all must watch the last game of the 2013-14 season Monday night on a TV screen.
They will shake their heads and wonder aloud how Kentucky and UConn reached a place no one predicted they would. They were underdogs who ignored predictions and put together their best basketball when it meant the most.
In doing so, they gave hoops junkies a last gasp of madness. Each team is a storied program; both programs have put together sub-stories the past three weeks that are oddly delightful.
For Kentucky, it is a story of a paranoid coach named John Calipari, aged by the demands of coaching in Lexington, Kentucky, who got his top-ranked recruiting class of twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson to mesh at the right moment. For UConn, it is a story of coach Kevin Ollie, a Black man with an NBA pedigree, who inherited a successful program from a basketball legend and has not ruined it.
For the Huskies, it is also the story of a senior guard named Shabazz Napier who has put the program on his shoulders and carried it to where nobody thought UConn would be. For the Wildcats, it is also the story of dogged determination from a team that played serious basketball when it mattered most.
The young Wildcats have played so well that they have silenced their critics, those skeptics and those never-satisfied sportswriters who have expected more from a freshman class than it was – so it seemed – prepared to give them.
Yet that class is one of two left standing, and it is poised to achieve what some thought the Wildcats would do at season’s start: win it all.
To say the same was expected of UConn would be to peddle a lie. The Huskies had talent; they always do. They also had a coach who needed to prove he could match Xs and Os with anybody.
He has one last chance to prove it this season.
It’s Ollie vs. Calipari. UConn vs. Kentucky. The Huskies vs. the Wildcats.
You pick the winner, ’cause I simply can’t.
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(Photos from left: Jamie Squire/Getty Images, Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)