As I went back and looked at my previous predictions through this season post season one thing is completely clear. I have no idea what I am talking about. I always knew when it came to cars, woman, and life in general I was one step shy of Forrest Gump intelligence. I always thought I had sports to fall back on at least. Then I go and get just 1 conference tournament picked right (out of six) and one of my bracket pools is currently ranked 57th out of 61. Of course my other bracket is 33rd out of 52 (a little better) but I have zero Final Four teams left and in fact had just one Elite Eight team correct (UConn).
Most people would stay away from predictions with the recent track record I have portrayed. Not this guy. Do I give up after the first 100 woman I hit on turn me down or every car I own breaks down on the highway? Hell no. So I may be a loser and wrong but I am not a quitter. All this being said here is my breakdown and predictions for this weekends Final Four.
Before I get into position versus position in this rematch of the Maui tournament final earlier this season I want to say this game will be a slugfest. Both these teams have talent and I see this game going back and forth throughout until the final minute. Of course their previous game in November was a UConn 17 point win but that would not have happened if it was not for a 21-2 Huskies run in the last 10 minutes of the first half. Creating a deficit this young UK team was unprepared to deal with at the time of the season.
While I feel UConn may be deeper than UK (then again who isn’t?), I think UK has more talent. Kemba Walker is the best player on the court but the second (Brandon Knight), third (Terrence Jones), and fourth (god forbid I say it Josh Harrellson) are all wearing Kentucky jerseys. Walker will get his, whether it is forced or not, he can not be stopped. Louisville showed ways to slow him down in two games this season but stopping him is a pipe dream. Knight can only hope to get near matching Walker in this game but only if UConn allows it. He (Knight) can not get into a “who is bigger” contest with Walker cause that will just take UK out of the game. Kentucky is at it’s best this season when the great Freshman duo of Jones and Knight are not forcing the game but trusting their upperclassmen teammates and letting the points come to them.
Never thought I would ever say this but if UConn is going to win this game they are going to need big play out of Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu containing Josh Harrellson in the post and off the boards. Against North Carolina specifically I watched Brandon Knight and Harrellson run the pick and roll as if they were John Stockton and Karl Malone.
When you look at “Jorts” numbers for the tournament it may still not blow you away. 14.7 points, 9 rebounds (5 offensive rebounds) a game but his impact has more resembled the numbers of a guy putting up 20 points and 12 rebounds a game. As impressive as UConn’s Jeremy Lamb has been playing ( 14.6 points a game) it fails in comparison to the impact of Josh Harrellson.
All this being said one major key to this game will be which Terrence Jones shows up. Of course which Darius Miller showing up is key as well. Will it be the SEC tournament MVP or the guy who was afraid to pull the trigger on an open three pointer on the road? I don’t think that will be an issue. Miller reminds me so much of former Card Larry O’Bannon in so many ways. I don’t see the Kentucky native disappearing in this game. In fact I see him being clutch in every way needed. Which takes me back to my orignal point of Terrence Jones. Which one will appear? The one who guns up three pointers in attempt to show off his game at the next level instead of helping his current team win or will it be the one who demands double teams in the lane and is willing to pass out of it? If the latter shows up as it has the previous five games of this tournament I don’t care how good Walker can be this game will be headed for a Wildcat victory.
In short I think UK will win this game. It will be close and I see the ball in Walker’s hands with the game on the line in the end. Sorry Huskie fans this time it doesn’t go in.
A battle of David versus David with the winner getting a shot at Goliath. Both these teams are great storylines for ESPN and CBS to shove down the viewers throat. This game will comedown to two things though. Can VCU continue their hot streak from beyond the arc? Can Butler’s Matt Howard continue to play at his level while staying out of foul trouble?
VCU is taking an average of 22 three-point attempts a game in this tournament and hitting an amazing 42% of them. That number is video game worthy. The Rams do a great job of spreading the floor and allowing their shooters to benefit from good looks. A result of the solid penetration they have received from their guards. Most notably Senior Joey Rodriguez. His averages are not eye-popping in this tournament maybe. Averaging 10.2 points and 7.6 assists ( 2 turnovers) a game but much like Harrellson his numbers do not come anywhere near the impact he has on the court. The match-up between Rodriguez (and the Rams press) versus Shelvin Mack we be worth watching the game alone.
The other match-up I am really looking forward to seeing is the one between Butler’s Matt Howard and VCU’s Jamie Skeen. Howards worst enemy through his career has been foul trouble. So when Howard is able to stay on the floor it is hard for me to be surprised the Bulldogs are back in the Final Four. He has not fouled out of a game since January 23rd and in this tournament has not had a game with more than 3 fouls. As a result he is putting up 16.2 points and 7 rebounds (5.7 offensive) a game, while shooting 44% from the field. Howard though is going against your not so typical big man in Wake Forest transfer Jamie Skeen. He (Skeen) is as good on the arc as he is in the paint. Like most of the VCU Rams he is hitting a high percentage from three ( 10 out of 16 for 62%) in the tournament (hit 40% for regular season). Skeen is averaging 15.6 points and 6.8 rebounds (4.6 offensive) a game, including a huge 26 point 10 rebound performance in the win over Kansas.
I fear for Butler fans cause I see this being the type of match-up that will bring Howard back to his limited minutes due to foul trouble days. Something thing can not afford to have if they want to return to the title game. That said I trust in Brad Stevens to have the Bulldogs ready defensively for this fast paced spread you out VCU attack. The kind rims have gone on to long for Shaka Smart’s team. Despite a poor game from Matt Howard, I think Shelvin “return of the ” Mack as well as the rest of their supporting cast will end VCU’s run.
A close game most of the way but I see Butler pulling slightly away at the end to advance to the finals for a second straight year.
I could go on and give you my thought on Butler versus Kentucky but with baseball season looming I think I will save it for Sunday. Cause what else will I have to write about? Wrestlemania maybe? Don’t tempt me.