By Vin Parise
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After another great Friday night of Semi-Finals action, we are in for a special Big East Championship tonight at the Garden as Louisville takes on UConn.
Here are my 5 thoughts on why this year’s Championship Game is so special:
1. The Kemba Factor: Jim Boeheim seemed to be right in his post-game press conference after St. John’s when he stated that “Kemba Walker can play 40 minutes every night if he had to.” We have been spoiled the past four days watching what Kemba has done at this tournament. Take your pick, the Pitt buzzer beater or the countless clips of him carving apart Syracuse, Georgetown and DePaul. And anyone that thinks Walker was fatigued last night is out of their mind. Talk to any Big East coach and they’ll tell you that Kemba is never tired – he’s just breathing heavy because he plays so damn hard! No team has ever won five games in five days here in New York. But did any of those teams have the Kemba Factor?
2. Connecticut Youth Movement: There were times early this season when UConn’s youth was overlooked. Kemba was playing so well that his teammates were often under the radar in terms of national recognition. Well I think it’s safe to say that this week’s tournament has finally put that to rest. Don’t get me wrong, the Huskies go as Walker goes – but when the freshmen crew of Roscoe Smith, Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb and Tyler Olander are playing great basketball, UConn can play with any team, anywhere.
3. The Overachieving Cardinals: There is no doubt that this season is one of Rick Pitino’s best coaching jobs ever. He doesn’t have a big time future NBA pro and this team was not picked to finish at the top of the Big East. Fast forward to March and Louisville is 25-8 and finished 3rd place in the best league in the country. The Cards get it done with very tough defense and by sharing the basketball on offense. Pitino’s team sets a lot of screens and are at their best when they’re penetrating the defense. But all of that being said, let’s not believe here that Louisville has a bunch of scrubs. Preston Knowles finished 12th in the Big East in scoring this year and Peyton Siva finished 5th in assists and led the league in steals.
4. The Zone Factor: I thought that UConn would struggle a lot more with Syracuse’s zone than they did. They made perimeter shots and they did a terrific job of penetrating the gaps of the defense. If Jim Calhoun’s team is going to win the championship, the Huskies must have effective zone offense yet again tonight against Louisville. Rick Pitino’s club plays a very aggressive 2-3 zone with a lot of man to man principles. Yes, Pitino once worked for Boeheim at Cuse, but Rick’s defense is a lot different. The Cards play areas of the floor in their zone but apply tremendous ball pressure on the men in their area. Their defensive rotations remind me a lot of those old Temple teams under John Chaney that played exceptional zone defense. If UConn can be poised in the half court and make deep perimeter shots, it’s going to be to their advantage.
5. The Theme of the Game: When we break down this game tomorrow, what will be the main THEME we talk about. Will it be UConn finally running out of gas? Kemba Walker finally coming back down to earth? Or Kemba Walker making Big East history? Or will it be Pitino’s amazing coaching job that leads to the 2nd title in 3 years for Louisville? All of that remains to be seen. I feel that UConn’s main key is secondary contribution. The young bucks have to step up on the big stage and help Kemba tonight. The Cardinals main key is to apply full and half court pressure in both man to man and zone defense. When Louisville turned up the heat last night vs Notre Dame, that’s when the game changed. The Irish shot under 30% in the 2nd half.
I like the Cardinals tonight because it’s hard to bet against Pitino right now – but would I be surprised if UConn makes history and Kemba Walker shines on Broadway? Absolutely not. And that’s why this is the greatest tournament in the world and the greatest city in the world.
– Vin Parise
College Basketball Analyst for WFAN Radio, Cox Sports-New England, MAAC-MSG Network, MSG-Varsity & ICGaels.com
Follow Vin at www.twitter.com/vphoops