The Kentucky Wildcats and Connecticut Huskies have taken unusual paths to the Final Four and national championship game. As such, the Wildcats and Huskies are setting up a national title battle like no other on April 7, between a No. 8 and No. 7 seed. But will such an historic end to a Final Four have an historic finish to go with it?
With all the drama the NCAA tournament has provided, and all the drama the Wildcats themselves have brought game after game, an anticlimactic Final Four finale would be an extra letdown. Then again, since Kentucky has kept topping itself in finish after finish, what more thrills can it provide at the very end?
Connecticut won its first national championship in a classic upset of the Duke Blue Devils in 1999. However, its last two titles were won in much uglier fashion, as the Huskies cruised over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in 2004 and practically beat the Butler Bulldogs in 2011 by default.
Before that unattractive win over the Bulldogs, the Huskies won another low scoring contest over the Wildcats in the semifinals, although that game did at least go down to the wire. Kentucky hasn't lost an NCAA tournament contest since then, yet it came very close four straight times in this tournament alone.
The Huskies have actually won relatively easy so far, except for their overtime win over the St. Joseph's Hawks back in the round of 64. They certainly had an easier Final Four game than the Wildcats on April 5, despite facing the No. 1 Florida Gators. Yet Connecticut took it to Florida in a way that Kentucky couldn't against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Will the Huskies keep rolling and expose the Wildcats as being out of gas? Or will being so battle-tested pay off for Kentucky, if it pushes Connecticut into the final moments? If the championship is only determined in the final moments, however, most outside of Lexington and Storrs should be satisfied either way.
Not every Final Four ends with a classic, especially in this century. The accompanying list details the most memorable and/or suspenseful national championship games since 2000 -- setting another thrilling bar Kentucky hopes it doesn't necessarily have to go over to win.
Duke holds off Arizona
2001: Duke Blue Devils 82, Arizona Wildcats 72 -- The No. 1 Blue Devils had to hold off run after run from a Wildcats team that already beat two No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Yet Shane Battier and Duke finally got over the top to claim the school's third championship.
Carmelo, Syracuse win it all
2003: Syracuse Orange 81, Kansas Jayhawks 78 -- Carmelo Anthony capped his college career by giving Jim Boeheim his first national championship, although Hakim Warrick sealed the deal with a last-second block.
Williams breaks through
2005: North Carolina Tar Heels 75, Illinois Fighting Illini 70 -- The 37-1 Illini finally hit a wall against the Tar Heels, who held on in the second half to give Roy Williams his first ever national championship.
Chalmers sets up win with tying shot
2008: Kansas Jayhawks 75, Memphis Tigers 68 (OT) -- John Calipari was all but guaranteed his first championship in 2008, before he even went to Kentucky. But thanks to letting Mario Chalmers sink a game-tying, last second three pointer, the Tigers were no match for the Jayhawks in overtime.
Hayward, Butler inches short
2010: Duke Blue Devils 61, Butler Bulldogs 59 -- It was a missed last-second three pointer that defined the 2010 final, as Gordon Hayward's barely-short half court shot overshadowed Duke actually winning the national championship over Butler.
Wildcats' last national title
2012: Kentucky Wildcats 67, Kansas Jayhawks 59 -- Calipari erased the ghosts of 2008, as the Wildcats held back rallies from none other than the Jayhawks. Two years later, Calipari's latest group of Kentucky freshman is taking a much harder path to a title.
Cardinals keep championship in Kentucky
2013: Louisville Cardinals 82, Michigan Wolverines 76 -- Peyton Siva and Russ Smith helped keep the championship in the state of Kentucky, as former Wildcats coach Rick Petino won his first title with Louisville in a shootout over Michigan.