NCAA Tournament Coverage: The Cardiac ‘Cats Survive To Monday Night

The world of sabermetrics—or stat geeks if you want a less complimentary term—has long been assuring us that the results of close games are decided mostly by luck, and that it’s all “variance” to use their mathematical term. The sabermetrics crowd has been thrown for a loop by the success of the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, as the Cardiac ‘Cats continued their surreal run of last-second wins in a 74-73 thriller over Wisconsin in Saturday’s national semi-final.

Aaron Harrison had already hit a big three to beat Michigan in last weekend’s regional finals. That shot was to break a tie game in the closing seconds. Saturday night in Dallas, Harrison launched a shot with considerably more stakes—his long three-pointer came as his team trailed 73-71 with less than ten seconds to play and was, for all practical purposes, a shot to win or lose a Final Four game. Harrison again buried it.

As the final result indicates, the game was basically evenly played. Kentucky shot a bit better from the floor—50 percent to 46 percent—but Wisconsin made up for it by going 19/20 at the foul line, and hitting eight treys to Kentucky’s two. The Badgers also got the 73-71 lead when Traevon Jackson drew a foul on a three-point shot in a tie game and hit two of the three foul shots.

The Wildcats enjoyed a modest rebounding edge, 32-27, although I think if you’re a Wisconsin fan (which I am) you would have taken that when the game began. Frank Kaminsky, who dominated the regionals, had a quiet line score (8 points/5 rebounds), but he also kept Julius Randle off the boards, as the Wildcat double-double machine had only five boards of his own. And Kaminsky, surrounded as soon as he touched the ball, helped create good looks for others.

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If you’re Kentucky, you look at the seven rebounds apiece you got from Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson and all the points in the paint. If you’re Wisconsin, you look at the surprise 11 points you got from Bronson Koenig off the bench. And then you ultimately wonder why, on the game’s final possession, Harrison was allowed to eye up his deep three rather than being chased off the arc by the defense and forced to hit a jumper on the run that would have, at worst, tied the game.

But Harrison was allowed to shoot, and the run continues—Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin have now all lost last-play games to Kentucky in this tournament in a run that will be in the conversation for the greatest ever, if the Cardiac ‘Cats win one more time.

UConn 63 Florida 53: The tournament’s #1 overall seed was eliminated in Saturday’s early game. Florida shot the ball poorly from trey range (1-for-10) and ultimately was exposed as a team whose success was mostly about beating up on a weak SEC—a league that has no depth, and at a time when Kentucky’s kids still had not jelled.

I always felt Florida was a nice team that was well-coached and played with consistent effort, but that they would run into problems if an opposing team had a player go off with a signature game, because this edition of Gator basketball didn’t have anyone who could really answer. DeAndre Daniels was that opposing player on Saturday, getting 20 points/10 rebounds and UConn pulled away down the stretch.

Monday night’s championship game tips at 9:10 PM ET on CBS. TheSportsNotebook’s NCAA Tournament coverage will likely be back late Monday night with some quick thoughts on the game before grabbing a red-eye flight early Tuesday morning. If Monday night doesn’t work, then I’ll be back late afternoon Tuesday with a post-mortem on the NCAA final.