The Kentucky Wildcats take on the Connecticut Huskies tonight in the NCAA Men’s National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It airs at 9:10PM ET on CBS. You can watch it online here.
Here are some numbers and facts which you can turn into story lines if you are either a sports pundit or casual fan. I’ll list them in no particular order, and accompany them with takeaway lessons.
- UConn last won the national championship in 2011 under Jim Calhoun. They have 3 total, all under Calhoun.
- Kentucky last won the national championship in 2012 under John Calipari. They have 8 total.
- Kentucky was the preseason No. 1-ranked team. They entered the tournament as an 8-seed.
- UConn was No. 18 (AP). They entered the tournament as a 7-seed.
Lesson 1: Come tournament time, the regular season doesn’t matter. Both programs have been historically good and also good very recently. One team came in with very high expectations. However, both underperformed throughout the season. Yet these points don’t matter: they’re playing very well when it matters the most, and are therefore in a great position to win the national championship.
- In the tournament, Kentucky beat Louisville and Michigan, last year’s champion and runner-up, respectively, back-to-back.
- In the tournament, UConn beat Michigan State and Florida back-to-back, generally considered the two favorites (with Louisville).
- Kentucky lost to Florida three times and MSU once this season, but beat Louisville twice.
- UConn lost to Louisville three times, but beat Florida twice.
Lesson 2: Matchups probably matter. Both teams vying for the title had to beat the teams that beat the other team multiple times, multiple times. This doesn’t say much about the UConn/Kentucky matchup, though.
- UConn was ineligible for the postseason last year due to an exceedingly low graduation rate.
- Kentucky starting five are all freshmen, and most are expected to leave for the NBA this year.
Lesson 3: NCAA is hypocrisy. (Note: this is solely the opinion of the author.) The debate over the future of the NCAA “student-athlete” has heated up over the past month. Both of these teams could probably be used as evidence against the idea: Connecticut had among the worst graduation rates of students within its basketball program, while Kentucky is built on one-and-done players. Neither program supports the “student” part of the student-athlete very well, yet the NCAA doesn’t care; they are taking in tons of money.
- According to FiveThirtyEight’s predictions, essentially a composite based on power rankings, UConn had a 1.98% chance of making it to the championship game, and 0.66% chance of winning (pre-tournament).
- According to FiveThirtyEight, Kentucky had a 3.93% chance of making it to the championship game, and a 1.91% chance of winning (pre-tournament).
- Before the tournament, Vegas had Connecticut at 100/1 odds to win, while Kentucky was 40/1.
- FiveThirtyEight is currently predicting that Connecticut has a slight edge over Kentucky (50.13% to win vs 49.87%).
- Vegas has Kentucky as a 2-to-2.5 point favorite. They are -140 to win, while Connecticut is +120 to win.
- According to PunditTracker, of the 26 pundits they followed, not a single one had either championship team in the finals of their bracket.
Lesson 4: March Madness is wonderful. (Mini-lesson: don’t listen to sports pundits.) Vegas oddsmakers are generally very good (pundits are generally not), but March Madness is wonderful because it is unpredictable. People who professionally follow sports probably did just as well/poorly as the average entry into your pool. And through it all we’ve had wonderful, exciting games. Tonight’s game has the makings of another one.