In making your Final 4 picks, you may be saying what many are, which is that the national semi-final game between the Kentucky Wildcats and UConn Huskies has the "feel" of a national title game, because these are, by far, the two highest-rated teams in the Final Four. In fact, they are the ONLY rated teams in the Final Four. Game time is at 8:49 PM ET on Saturday, at Reliant Stadium in Houston. As far as the odds from which we will make our Final 4 picks, Kentucky is a 2.5-point favorite, with a total of 140 points posted.
Final 4 Picks - National Semi-Finals
Kentucky Wildcats (29-8 SU, 17-14-1 ATS) vs. Connecticut Huskies (30-9 SU, 21-12 ATS)
Live at Reliant Stadium
Saturday, April 2 -- 8:49 PM ET
Odds - Final 4 Picks:
These teams met in Hawaii back in November, and UConn won an 84-67 decision as it won the Maui Invitational title. Don't depend on that for your Final 4 picks, because the dynamics have changed. To begin with, we have some freshman players who have been with each other for a whole season. And new contributors have had a chance to really become part of the landscape. Since that game, the Wildcats have seen great strides coming from Doron Lamb and Josh Harellson in particular.
Lamb, who is the least heralded of the freshmen, has scored 15 or more points on fourteen occasions. And Harellson has just come out of nowhere, and as a senior, that is somewhat shocking. He's been in double figures in all four NCAA Tournament games, and he has blocked at least one shot in all of them. For looking at the Final 4 picks, what we will expect from him in this game is a 6'10", 275-pound muscle guy who can play a body on Alex Oriakhi on both ends. What we're saying is that Kentucky won't be a pushover underneath.
There's another Lamb that may be a telling factor, and that is Jeremy Lamb, the UConn freshman who has now scored in double figures in nine straight games, and that included 24 against San Diego State and 19 against Arizona. As such, he makes himself a viable scoring outlet to take pressure off Kemba Walker. That, together with Oriakhi, might makes UConn much more attractive in Final 4 picks.
And make no mistake about it - when you have won the Big East title in the manner in which UConn won it, and have avoided the fatigue that would come with it, to sweep through the Big Dance against good teams, you are fully capable of winning this, or any other game. So the choice would be to go with the points in our Final 4 picks, right?
Well, it could indeed be justified, but we're going to move in the other direction, for a few reasons. One is that we think coach John Calipari has his rotation down pat, and the "lack of depth" won't be a factor at all at this point. Also, Knight has graduated from one level to the next, and so on, throughout this process, and he looks like a veteran in terms of his clutch abilities. keep in mind that Terrence Jones has seen a certain slump in his numbers, but he's fully capable of going for 20 points and ten rebounds. And with Harellson becoming a legitimate part of the offense, Kentucky probably has more of an ability to stretch the UConn defense than the other way around. These are big factors in our Final 4 picks.
Granted, so is the presence of Walker, who's had games of 33 points against Cincinnati and 36 against San Diego State. Yes, he has received more support from his teammates, but he is still the engine that makes things go, and he can bring this team down with a series of bad shots. With extra time to prepare, I'm expecting Calipari to come with an approach to throw him off-balance, and if the Wildcats can keep him off the line, they can make the Huskies do something they don't want to do. With a better balanced attack, and defenders with more "length," we can see Kentucky covering this 2.5-point number in our Final 4 picks.
JAY'S PLAY: KENTUCKY -2.5 ***
(Graded on a scale of 1-4 stars)