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5 Things to Watch For In Tonight's NCAA Championship

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Calipari vs. Ollie. The Harrisons vs. Napier and Boatright. What to look for in tonight’s title game.

5 Things to Watch For In Tonight's NCAA Championship

The greatest tournament outside of Mortal Kombat and the World Cup ends tonight. The Kentucky Wildcats and Connecticut Huskies play for college basketball's national championship tonight in Cowboys Stadium. There are plenty of intriguing match-ups and storylines for the game, so let's quickly identify 5 things to watch for in tonight's game.

1. Aaron Harrison and Shabazz Napier in the clutch

Kentucky and UConn are no strangers to tight games. UConn has relied on the heroics of their star guard, Shabazz Napier, on more than one occasion. We all know what he can do with the ball. Kentucky has scraped through the entire tournament with come-from-behind wins and several clutch moments from a variety of players. Just look at what Aaron Harrison has done in the Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively (GIFs via SB Nation):

Against Michigan:

And against Wisconsin:

Should the game come down to the wire, look for those two players to get the touches.

2. Kentucky's Clutch-ness

Via ESPN's College Basketball Nation:

Kentucky is plus-21 in the NCAA Tournament when the score is within three points in the final three minutes, after being minus-16 in that situation during the regular season.

Kentucky is shooting 60 percent on field goals, including 5-of-6 on 3-pointers, when the score is within three points in the final three minutes in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats shot 29 percent on field goals in those situations in the regular season.

Moral of the story for Connecticut: stretch out that lead and keep Kentucky out of reach late in the game.

3. Ollie on the cusp of history

If UConn head coach can lead the Huskies to the title, he would become just the fifth coach in NCAA history to win the championship in his second season with the team. Who would be be joining? Branch McCracken (Indiana, 1940), Doggie Julian (Holy Cross, 1947), Fred Taylor (Ohio State, 1960) and Roy Williams (North Carolina, 2005). He'll have to take down John Calipari to do it, but Ollie has already knocked off former title winners Billy Donovan and Tom Izzo during this tournament run.

4. Rebounding Battle

One of the most interesting things to watch during the game will be how UConn counters Kentucky's incredible rebounding ability. Kentucky is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation statistically, ranking first overall in offensive rebounding percentage at 42.3%. UConn, adversely, sports a defensive rebounding percentage of 67.0%, ranking 267th in the country. Willie Cauley-Stein obviously helped those offensive rebounding numbers, but they still were able to pull down 11 against a tall Wisconsin front line. If UConn can't keep Kentucky off the glass and gives up easy second chance opportunities (or just gets into foul trouble), it might be a lopsided affair.

5. Seniority Rules?

Again, this is probably a silly thing to bring up, but it does bear repeating: how will Kentucky's predominantly freshman lineup react against UConn and the senior leadership of Shabazz Napier? Kentucky's freshman have certainly embraced the spotlight so far this tournament, playing their best ball in March/April. How different could the national championship be? My guess is just a little. The Huskies have probably the best senior leader in all of college basketball running the show, and if he was able to get into the head of Florida's senior-laden lineup on Saturday, what can he do to Kentucky's young guards?

The Prediction

Just about every single one has missed this tournament, but why not throw one out there: UConn 71 - Kentucky 64

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