TIME Basketball

What’s Next for Duke and Coach K?

Wisconsin v Duke
Streeter Lecka—Getty Images Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski after the Blue Devils defeat the Wisconsin Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on April 6, 2015

Mike Krzyzewski can't coach forever

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won his fifth NCAA championship Monday night; only UCLA’s John Wooden, with 10, has won more titles in the men’s college game. Coach K guided the U.S. men’s team to the last two Olympic gold medals, the last two world championships and will go for another Olympic gold in 2016 in Rio. This season, he reached his 12th Final Four, tying Wooden for the most appearances ever, and also became the first men’s coach in Division 1 history to win 1,000 games. He’s 68 years old.

Over the past few weeks — and especially as Duke cut down the nets Monday night after beating Wisconsin, 68-63, in the national title game — I’ve been thinking too much about one question: Who’s going to replace Coach K?

I know, nice timing: we just finished a pretty great championship game, and I’m pondering Krzyzewski‘s exit, which seems at least a few years away. Duke looked done, as Wisconsin had a nine-point lead in the second half. The team’s future NBA draft picks, freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, were on the bench with foul trouble. But freshman guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen took over, and once Okafor got back into the game, he woke up and took over down the stretch. Duke’s defense improved, the Blue Devils got a little assistance from the refs — shocking — and, suddenly, Duke broke Wisconsin’s heart.

Fresh off this drama, why in the world am I wondering what Duke will look like three, five, maybe seven years down the road? Krzyzewski’s been winning plenty lately. He seems sharp and energized. But Duke’s post-K future is so intriguing because it doesn’t just concern the intramural college coaching carousel. No, it’s one of the higher-stakes succession stories in American business.

Like it or not, Duke is a sports dynasty that generates millions of dollars, and stirs the passions of millions of loyalists — and haters. Coach K has built a consequential enterprise. Maybe he gets too much credit for “the program.” But it’s developed in his image. Can anyone live up to him?

Following Coach K will be a rough gig. Wooden’s successors, for example, struggled in his shadow. But that doesn’t mean a crew of Krzyzewski’s former players and assistants aren’t positioning themselves for that prize. A current K assistant, Jeff Capel, already had some success coaching Blake Griffin at Oklahoma. He’s likely on his way to Arizona State: if he can win there, he’s a prime candidate. Former Duke assistant Mike Brey, whose Notre Dame team almost made this year’s Final Four, would be in the running. So would former Duke player and assistant coach Tommy Amaker, who has made four straight NCAA tournament appearances as head coach at Harvard. Amaker’s former teammate Johnny Dawkins has had mixed success at Stanford: the Cardinal just won the NIT, which is nice. But that means Stanford didn’t make the Big Dance.

Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, another pair of former Duke players and assistants, are just getting their head-coaching careers started at Northwestern and Marquette, respectively. And what about Bobby Hurley, the all-time assists leader in Division 1 men’s hoops, and maybe Coach K’s favorite player ever. He’s a hot coaching commodity after leading Buffalo to this year’s tournament. Will he be ready for Duke in a few years?

Will Duke ever be able to cut down those nets on a Monday night, without Mike Krzyzewski on the ladder?

TIME Media

How March Madness Showed Streaming TV Isn’t Perfect Yet

Wisconsin v Kentucky
Streeter Lecka—Getty Images Traevon Jackson #12 of the Wisconsin Badgers handles the ball against Tyler Ulis #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 4, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Sling TV suffered outages during Saturday's action

Though there’s an ever-growing list of streaming services aiming to bring live television online, there are still plenty of kinks to work out. That was apparent Saturday night when Dish Network’s livestreaming service Sling TV suffered outages during the Final Four men’s college basketball matchups.

As Duke battled Michigan State and Wisconsin squared off against Kentucky, some users weren’t able to reliably watch the games on Sling TV, which carries TBS, TNT, ESPN and a handful of other live channels for $20 per month. The Wisconsin-Kentucy had the highest TV ratings for a Final Four game in 22 years, so it’s no surprise that Sling was getting hammered during the broadcast.

Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch told Re/code that the issues only affected about 1,000 users. Re/code earlier reported that Sling had signed on more than 100,000 users in its first month available.

The Sling TV errors come after similar hiccups during HBO’s stream of the season premiere of Game of Thrones last April and ABC’s livestream of the Oscars earlier this year. Web TV is finally here, but it’s still got a ways to go to achieve the reliability of cable during big events.

TIME College Basketball

A Wisconsin-Duke Final Is Just Fine

Quinn Cook #2, Jahlil Okafor #15 and Justise Winslow #12 of the Duke Blue Devils acknowledge fans while walking off the court following their 81-61 win against the Michigan State Spartans during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 4, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Lance King—Getty Images Quinn Cook #2, Jahlil Okafor #15 and Justise Winslow #12 of the Duke Blue Devils acknowledge fans while walking off the court following their 81-61 win against the Michigan State Spartans during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 4, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Without undefeated Kentucky, this year's title game won't be historic. But it's still loaded with intrigue

At the start of the 2014-15 college basketball season, 351 Division I teams had a chance to win the national championship. Going into this weekend, four teams remained: undefeated Kentucky and Wisconsin on one side of the bracket, Duke and Michigan State on the other. Let’s face it: Duke-Kentucky would have been a dandy final. Both programs have a national imprint. Dynastic Duke is the New York Yankees, or Dallas Cowboys, of college hoops. Kentucky is not only a blue blood program, but more recently it’s a factory of future NBA talent led by a divisive coach, master salesman John Calipari. The NCAA had already nullified two Final Four appearances of his prior teams, UMass and Memphis.

Imagine Calipari’s Cats just needing to get by the venerable Coach K, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, to complete the first perfect season in major men’s college basketball since 1976. The good vs. evil narrative, trite as it is, would write itself. The cunning Calipari, the man whose system of shuttling players to the NBA after a year of college is a supposed affront to higher education, on one side, against Coach K, molder of student-athletes at prestigious Duke. That match-up guaranteed a monster TV rating.

Well, it’s not happening. Duke held up its end, as the Blue Devils trounced Michigan State, 81-61. However, Wisconsin gutted out a thrilling 71-64 victory over Kentucky to squash the Wildcats’ dreams of perfection. Plus, the Calipari/Krzyzewski clash is hogwash. If anything, Krzyzewski has copycatted Calipari’s strategy of recruiting NBA-ready players who are only in college because NBA rules require that they spend a year in school before they’re drafted. Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker left Duke after just one year in 2011, 2012 and 2014, respectively; this year, Duke freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow are locks to be high first-round picks. Freshman guard Tyrus Jones could also go pro. So who’s one-and-done U here?

MORE: Here’s Your Final Four Drinking Game

According to the ol’ eye test, the Blue Devils were just too good for Michigan State on Saturday night. They should swarm Wisconsin too. In the first half against Kentucky, the Badgers needed a few crazy shots to go in to stay ahead. In the end, the skills of Wisconsin stars Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker—combined with some sloppy execution by Kentucky, which relied too much on guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison to create scoring chances, rather than give the ball to the big men—made the difference.

On Sunday, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he got numerous texts from people reminding him that when the Team USA hockey team beat the Soviet Union to complete the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics, the U.S. still had to defeat Finland in the gold medal game. It’s cute to compare Wisconsin’s win over Kentucky to the Miracle on Ice, or even to Duke’s upset of the undefeated UNLV team in the 1991 national semis, but both comparisons are off. That Soviet team was unbeatable, and on paper a bunch of American amateurs had no conceivable shot to win. That UNLV team was not only undefeated, but it crushed everyone all year and had the same nucleus as the team that won the national title in 1990. Kentucky had a few close calls this season, including one just last week against Notre Dame in the regional final. The Wildcats had a perfect season going, but they weren’t a perfect team. It’s not entirely stunning that they lost.

And Duke, I suspect, poses a bigger challenge than the Fins—relatively speaking. If the Badgers are to beat Duke on Monday night, they’ll have to pull off the same feat they did against the Wildcats: make tough shots against a bunch of future pros. That’s difficult to do for two straight games.

One observer’s prognosis: one-and-done U will win the title. Just not the one most people expected.

TIME Basketball

These Maps Show the Most Talked-About Final Four Team in Each State

Kentucky looks to be the fan favorite on social media

If Facebook could predict winners, Kentucky would take home the championship title in the 2015 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The social media site has used its data to put together two maps that reveal fan favorites by state. In the first, you can see how each state breaks down according to how many people “like” the team’s page on Facebook.

Facebook FF Likes Map

The second map reveals which teams Facebook users in each state have been talking about the most from March 15 through 31, during which time 14 million people talked about the tournament on the site.

Facebook FF Conversation Map

Comparing the two maps indicates that 13 states with mostly Duke fans, according to their likes, are actually talking more about Kentucky on Facebook.

When the Final Four games are played on Saturday, Facebook will be a lonely place for Michigan State fans.

TIME College Basketball

Here’s Your 2015 Final Four Drinking Game

Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Midwest Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, on Mar. 28, 2015.
Gregory Shamus—Getty Images Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Midwest Regional Final of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, on Mar. 28, 2015.

How to liven up a hoops party -- responsibly

TIME introduced its inaugural Final Four drinking game last year, and our second installment is back by popular demand—just in time for Saturday’s match-ups from Indianapolis. Duke plays Michigan State at 6:09 p.m. E.T., while Wisconsin and Kentucky tip off at 8:49 p.m. TBS will broadcast both games.

As always, please play responsibly. Follow local laws, don’t overindulge and please take a cab home if need be.

With that, here are this year’s rules:

Drink When Raf Calls “Man-to-Man”

Announcer Bill Raftery, the avuncular, white-haired former coach who has popularized phrases like “with a kiss” for a player who makes a bank shot, will finally call a Final Four on television. This honor is long overdue, and the arrest of former top analyst Greg Anthony in January for allegedly soliciting a prostitute created a spot for Raftery. Listen for the sweetest sound in March: at the beginning of each game, soon after the tip, Raftery will chirp that the defense is in “man-to-man!” He’s pumped, so you’re pumped. Who wouldn’t drink to that?

Raise Your Glass When TBS Airs Gordon Hayward’s Missed Half Court Shot

This is the first Final Four in Indianapolis since 2010, when the Blue Devils cut down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium after defeating Butler in the championship game, 61-59. Butler’s Gordon Hayward, who now plays for the Utah Jazz, barely missed a half-court shot at the buzzer that would have given the hometown Bulldogs the win. TBS producers surely have that clip cued up for Saturday.

When You See a Slap, Hit the Tap

To rev themselves up, Duke players love to slap the floor.

Take a Sip When Announcers Play Up Michigan State’s Hometown Friends

Michigan State players Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes grew up together in Lansing, Michigan, a jump shot away from Michigan State’s campus in East Lansing. They’d down Capri Suns from Valentine’s fridge and were high school teammates. The announcers will start yapping about the Lansing connection, and you’ll know what to do.

Drink When Frank the Tank Makes an Improbable Shot

Wisconsin’s Frank “the Tank” Kaminsky, arguably the country’s best college player, is effective because he can score in all sorts of different ways. Drink up every time Tank makes a goofy, off-balance shot that has no business going in.

Finish Your Beer When Dekker Hits a Three

Sharpshooter Sam Dekker torched Arizona in the West region final, scoring 27 points in Wisconsin’s 85-78 win. In the second half, Dekker didn’t miss a shot, going 6-6 from the field and 3-3 from the foul line. His three off the dribble in the waning seconds sealed the win, and made Aaron Rodgers real happy. “Sam Dekker pretty much crushed our dreams,” Arizona’s T.J. McConnell said after the game. But he may even liven up your party, if you sip when Dekker hits a three.

Down a Drink When the Announcers Name Drop the Harrison Twins

In last year’s Kentucky-Wisconsin national semifinal, Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison hit the game-winning three pointer with less than 6 seconds left. He hit another big one down the stretch in Kentucky’s thrilling 68-66 victory over Notre Dame in the regional last Saturday, and in that game, his twin brother Andrew made the deciding free throws. In last year’s title game, however, UConn’s guards outplayed Kentucky’s brotherly backcourt, a key factor in UConn’s win.

Toast to Ashley Judd Hitting the Jumbotron

When the camera pans to Kentucky super fan Ashley Judd, which seems to happen a few dozen times every game, keep the celebration going.

Bottoms Up When Announcers Predict First-Draft Picks

If you prefer pro hoops to the college version, you should still tune into this year’s Final Four, for no other reason than you’ll see plenty of future NBA talent. One writer predicts that as many as eight top prospects may be selected by NBA teams that participate in the annual draft lottery, where the luck of the ping-pong ball determines a bad team’s draft position.

Cheers to a Potentially Perfect Season

The biggest storyline going into this year’s Final Four: Kentucky’s quest for perfection. The Wildcats are 38-0, and two more wins would give them the first perfect season in major men’s college basketball since 1975-1976, when the Indiana Hoosiers of Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner and Scott May ran the table. So raise a glass every time you hear “1976 Indiana Hoosiers.” We’ll drink to history.

TIME College Basketball

Michigan State Students Celebrate Final Four Place by Tossing Bagels in the Air

We can't understand it either

Michigan State is the only non-number one seed to make it to the Final Four this year, and the students are celebrating by…hurling bagels into the air?

Yep, hundreds of Michigan State fans gathered on the campus to celebrate the Spartans’ overtime victory against the Louisville Cardinals Sunday by tossing bagels like confetti. Some students even took the festivities to the next level by burning sweatshirts and couches. Police dispersed the crowd, making at least four arrests, according to The Detroit News.

The Michigan State University Police Department, who apparently was as confused by the bagel throwing as everyone else, issued a warning on its Twitter about the festivities:

Even the lieutenant governor tweeted about the bagel-tossing:

Though Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has reached the Final Four seven times, this one is perhaps the most incredible. The Spartans entered the tournament as a 7-seed after losing their best players from last year’s season. They’ll play Duke on Saturday.

What breakfast food will the fans throw if the team makes it to the championship game?

MONEY gambling

6 Ways to Win Your March Madness Office Pool

Aaron Harrison #2 of the Kentucky Wildcats dunks the ball during the game against the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena on March 7, 2015 in Lexington, Kentucky.
Andy Lyons—Getty Images Bet against the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats at your peril.

You can't pick the perfect bracket (ask Warren Buffett). But you might be able to edge out your co-workers with these tips.

You would have to be crazy to think you can master the betting process for the NCAA’s annual college basketball tournament. That’s part of why it’s called March Madness.

The odds of picking all the winners among the 68 teams in this year’s men’s tournament is an insane 1 in 9.2 quintillion, according to a DePaul University math professor. That is roughly equivalent to winning the Mega Millions lottery jackpot twice in a row.

No wonder famed investor Warren Buffett felt so comfortable offering a $1 billion for a perfect bracket in last year’s NCAA tournament. (No one won.)

But to pick up a few bucks winning your own March Madness office pool, which draws an estimated 50 million Americans a year, you do not have to be perfect. You just have to be good enough to beat your friends. What is at stake is some of the $12 billion that will be bet worldwide on this year’s March Madness tournament, according to the website Pregame.com.

And if you actually win a little cash? According to the Internal Revenue Service, all gambling winnings are taxable—although it’s highly unlikely your podunk office pool will be reported to any authorities, and Uncle Sam has never bothered with them in the past.

Here are six tips to help you get an edge when bracket seedings and matchups are announced on Selection Sunday, March 15.

1. Don’t Get Carried Away With Cinderella Stories

While highly entertaining, huge upsets do not happen all that often (although the Mercer Bears did knock off the powerhouse Duke Blue Devils just last year).

“For the most part, you want to stick with the favorites—especially as you get deeper into tournament rounds like the Elite Eights and the Final Four,” says Ken Pomeroy, founder of the stats-analysis site KenPom.com.

This year in particular, there is one runaway favorite: the Kentucky Wildcats and their perfect 30-0 record. Bet against them at your peril.

2. Tailor Your Picks to Your Pool

Your optimal bracket will change depending on the size of the pool, notes Brad Null, founder of the site BracketVoodoo.com. It is basic game theory: You are not just picking winners, you are playing against others.

If a pool is only comprised of three or four people, stick largely with the favorites, Null says. The bigger the pool gets, the more risks you should take in order to win the prize. In a pool of 10 or 20 people, for instance, you might want to forgo heavily favored Kentucky in favor of talented but less-probable teams like Virginia, he advises.

Even more bettors and you might want to vary it up even more, by looking at names like Wisconsin, Villanova, or Gonzaga to go deep into the tournament.

3. Get Expert Help

If you do not have an advanced degree in statistics, good news: Experts are happy to do all the number-crunching for you (sometimes for a fee).

For likelihoods of victory in any given match-up, visit sites like Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com or TeamRankings.com, advises Doug Drinen, an associate math professor at Tennessee’s Sewanee: The University of the South.

4. Factor in the Scoring System

Every individual pool can feature its own scoring method, and that in turn influences how you should bet. If there is a special bonus awarded for upsets, for instance, pencil in more shockers than you would otherwise.

On the other hand, some pools are heavily weighted toward the eventual victor—awarding only one point for a first-round win, but 32 points for the final game. In that case, go with the heavy favorite, because “it’s almost impossible to win the pool unless you pick the champion,” says Drinen.

5. Avoid Homer Bias

It is only natural to root for your college team. It is not a winning pool strategy.

“If I’m in a pool with a bunch of people who went to college at Stanford, you know half of them are going to pick Stanford to win it all,” says Null. Be a contrarian and go the other way.

6. Think Like a Value Investor

The beauty of March Madness is that you never know who might go on a run—like last year’s champion Connecticut Huskies, who started as humble seven seeds.

“You don’t want to just look at teams who have been successful in the past, but also those who have been down lately,” says Null. “In that way, it’s kind of like picking stocks.”

TIME College Basketball

UNC Basketball Coach Dean Smith Dead at 83

Smith coached at the school for 36 seasons and retired with more wins than any other college basketball coach

University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, often considered among the most successful athletic coaches of all time, died Saturday evening at 83, according to UNC.

Smith’s family confirmed the death in a statement and thanked the public for thoughts and prayers.

“It’s such a great loss for North Carolina – our state, the University, of course the Tar Heel basketball program, but really the entire basketball world,” said current UNC coach Roy Williams in a statement. “We lost one of our greatest ambassadors for college basketball for the way in which a program should be run.”

Smith coached at the school for 36 seasons, from 1961 to 1997, and retired with more wins than any other college basketball coach. The team won two national championships and made 11 Final Four appearances during his tenure. ESPN named him one of the seven greatest coaches of any sport in the 2oth century.

In an obituary posted at Sports Illustrated, Alexander Wolff recalled what made Smith a unique figure in the college basketball environment:

He didn’t need to put any game face on; he wore the same face, game or no game. Almost alone among coaches I’ve known, Smith actually preferred to speak to the press in the hours before tip-off. And if that game turned out to be a loss, he got over it quickly — in part because for every loss he could point to roughly three-and-a-half victories (879 all told), but also because he truly understood that a billion people in China didn’t give a damn.

During the back half of Smith’s career men’s college basketball spawned a generation of coaches who regarded the university — with its classes and standards, with its women’s teams clamoring for resources and practice time — as irritations, barriers to their entrepreneurial striving. So they tried to set their programs apart and reserve for themselves the spoils of shoe and camp and TV deals. Smith believed that every dime his team delivered to Chapel Hill belonged to the athletic department. He didn’t begrudge the women’s soccer program spending Tar Heels basketball booty; he gloried in it.

Read more at Sports Illustrated

TIME FInal Four

The Shabazz Show Wins Title for UConn

Connecticut celebrates with the championship trophy after beating Kentucky 60-54 at the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game on April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas.
David J. Phillip—AP Connecticut celebrates with the championship trophy after beating Kentucky 60-54 at the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game on April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas.

Senior shooting guard Shabazz Napier's 22 points helped lift the seventh-seeded Connecticut Huskies to a 60-54 victory over the eighth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, bringing the team its fourth national championship since 1999

Thousands of basketball-obsessed kids, in schoolyards and backyards and barnyards around the country, may be trying a new kind of shot come Tuesday morning. It’s a deep one, and comes with a kick, literally: release, and kick your right foot out, like you’re also whacking an invisible soccer ball. Call it the Shabazz Shot. It just won UConn a national championship.

Shabazz Napier, the UConn senior shooting guard, scored 22 points, and hit four key three pointers — most with that signature kick — to lead the seventh-seeded Huskies to a 60-54 victory over eighth-seeded Kentucky in Monday night’s NCAA title game. His backcourt mate, junior Ryan Boatright, also had a fabulous game, shooting 5 for 6 from the field and finishing with 14 points. Napier and Boatright outscored Kentucky’s backcourt, twin freshman Aaron and Andrew Harrison, 36-15.

Just as important, Napier and Boatright used their size disadvantage to their advantage. The Harrison brothers are both 6-ft, 6-in. Napier is 6-ft, 1-in., and Boatright is listed at a generous 6-ft. Big guys don’t like being pestered by smaller, quicker players. UConn’s Kevin Ollie, a national champ in his first NCAA tournament as head coach, scripted a smart game plan: unleash the quickness of Napier and Boatright on Kentucky’s taller guards. The Harrisons turned the ball over 7 times. Both Napier and Boatright finished with three steals.

The game wasn’t a classic. But it was a chess match. In the first half, when Kentucky clearly couldn’t stop the quickness of UConn’s backcourt, Wildcats coach John Calipari switched to a zone. The move stalled UConn, which dominated Kentucky in the first half, but only had a 35-31 lead at halftime. Calipari admitted his team should have been down 20 points. The play got a bit sloppier in the second half: combined, both teams turned the ball over 23 times. Ollie made his moves in the second-half: almost all game, his team played man-to-man, but when he threw in the occasional zone, Kentucky got flustered. Kentucky’s James Young kept slithering into the lane, keeping the Wildcats in the game almost by himself. The freshman—all five of Kentucky’s starters are freshmen—finished with 20 points.

The game was also decided at the foul line: Connecticut, money from the line all tournament, shot a perfect 10-for-10. Kentucky missed nine shots, finishing 13-24. Calipari screwed up in the final minute, ordering a foul with 54 seconds left, with Kentucky down 58-54. All that did was give UConn a fresh 35-second shot clock, enabling the Huskies to run the time down the rest of the game.

No matter: the game was still the Shabazz show. Napier, who hails from Roxbury, Mass., returned to UConn this season instead of entering the NBA draft, and is on track to graduate with a sociology degree. He’s developed a social conscience: after telling reporters that he sometimes goes to bed hungry because his scholarship does not cover the full cost of attending college, Connecticut lawmakers started chirping about allowing UConn athletes to unionize. A bit of political pandering by the statehouse reps? Maybe. But at least he started a discussion. And after the game, Napier grabbed the CBS mike to deliver a message to the NCAA. “I want to get everybody’s attention right quick,” Napier told a national television audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, you’re looking at the hungry Huskies. This is what happens when you ban us last year.” The NCAA kept UConn out of last year’s tournament because of poor academic performance by prior players. Napier used the national championship platform to publicly express his disgust with that policy.

You may not agree with Napier. But it’s still refreshing to see college athletes like him lifting their voices. And their feet. Start kicking, kids.

TIME

You Should Root for UConn Over Kentucky Tonight

UCONN vs Michigan State Elite Eight
Elsa—Getty Images Ryan Boatright of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after a turnover by the Michigan State Spartans in the second half of the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City.

It's all for glory tonight as Huskies and Wildcats square off in the NCAA title game. The backcourt battle between the two top-seeded teams is also a college hoops culture clash: The kids who stayed in school versus the ones likely off to the pros

Oh, you’ve got love this Cinderella* final. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985, never before have two lower-seeded teams met in the national championship game. Monday night’s title game is a dream matchup between two underdogs* who have charmed the nation.

* Never have the terms “Cinderella” and “underdog” been more of a misnomer. They’d normally apply to much lower-seeded teams. But when the seventh seed is UConn, a team that won a national title just three seasons ago, has won three national titles since 1999 and is a perennial power, and the eighth seed is Kentucky, the winningest college hoops program in history that starts five freshman who may all be playing in the NBA next season, let’s cease any and all pluckiness talk.

In tonight’s title game, homing in on the guards is key. They’re important for both the on-court result and what they say about the tensions surrounding college sports. Kentucky starts a pair of freshman twins from Texas, Aaron and Andrew Harrison. In back-to-back games, Aaron Harrison has hit two of the gutsiest three-pointers you’ll ever see, first stabbing the heart of Michigan in the Midwest regional final, then winning the national semifinal game against Wisconsin with another huge three-pointer in the waning seconds. To borrow a phrase from our pal Bill Raftery, the kid’s got some serious onions.

But UConn’s own backcourt, senior Shabazz Napier and junior Ryan Boatright, have stepped up their defensive game during this tournament run: can these elder statesmen thwart the rookie twins from Kentucky? On Saturday night, Napier and Boatright shut down Florida’s two highly regarded guards, Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II. Wilbeken, the SEC Player of the Year and master of penetrating into the lane, scored just four points on 2-9 shooting, and recorded a single assist. Frazier, a three-point specialist in the mold of a Ray Allen, sank his first three of the game. It was his only one. He only got off two more shots from downtown, and finished with a measly three points.

The backcourt battle is also a college hoops culture clash — the kids who stayed in school (Napier-Boatright) vs. the ones likely off to the pros (Harrisons). Some experts are saying that Kentucky’s tournament run has really helped the brothers’ draft stock. Both Napier and Boatright considered heading to the pros after last season, but decided against it: the title game is a pretty sweet reward.

Boatright’s journey to the championship, in particular, represents college sports in all its craziness. I wrote a magazine feature on Boatright in 2007, when he was just starting ninth grade, because he was at the forefront of a disturbing trend: college coaches recruiting and offering scholarships to kids at younger and younger ages. Boatright was a curious case: USC coach Tim Floyd offered him a scholarship in eighth grade, even though Boatright was only 5-ft., 9-in., and 138 lbs. Boatright and his family gladly accepted the offer. It’s one thing to try to lock-up a man-child. But Boatright was a ninth-grader who actually, you know, looked like a ninth-grader.

Boatright picked his college before he even picked his high school. Recruiting experts scratched their heads. “What am I supposed to do?” Floyd, now the coach at the University of Texas-El Paso, told me at the time. “Should I wait until another school offers and then come in? I can’t do that. Because they’re going to say ‘Well, you’re late.'”

After meeting Boatright back in September of 2007, if you would have asked me to make a bet, right then and there, on his future, I would have wagered against him living up to the hype. He needed muscle, and some serious rotation on his jump shot. As I wrote, “Boatright [is] a bright, personable kid with a supportive extended family worth rooting for.” But gosh, he was so small — not surprising, considering he was 14. And all that pressure – failure almost seemed predetermined.

But Boatright came across unfazed. “I like the pressure,” said Boatright during our conversation, noshing on a chocolate long john at Dunkin’ Donuts before a Saturday-morning shoot-around. “I feed off it. I hear all the negative stuff, I just add another workout. I’ll make them feel stupid in the end.”

I’ve never been happier about being stupid. “He knew that, as a little guy, he had to work even harder,” says his grandfather, Tom Boatright, during a phone interview from Dallas, where he’ll attend his grandson’s championship game. Tom Boatright, who runs a track club in Aurora, helped train his grandson from an early age. Floyd resigned as coach of USC in 2009, after Boatright’s sophomore year of high school, amidst allegations that he gave $1,000 in cash to a middleman who helped steer current NBA player O.J. Mayo to the Trojans.

“After Floyd left, we just didn’t know if the new coach was even interested,” says Boatright. Ryan decommited from USC, but since he met, and maybe even exceeded expectations in high school, offers from plenty of big-time programs came pouring in. Boatright committed to West Virginia early in his senior season, but backed out after coach Bob Huggins signed another point guard. Eventually he decided on UConn, who went on to win the national championship.

In the end, Boatright, who now checks in at 6-feet, 168 pounds, was too good for USC. But his UConn career got off to a rocky start. The NCAA suspended him for six-regular season games for an infraction involving accepting a plane ticket while playing AAU ball. Then he had to sit three more games after the NCAA said he and his mother received additional improper benefits. When he was on the court during the 2011-2012 season, he and Napier, a year older, clashed.

“My freshman year, it was tough,” Ryan Boatright said on Sunday afternoon, CBS Sports reports. “I was used to having the ball all the time and making plays, and scoring the ball. Naturally as a kid, I was immature. You come in and you think it’s all about you. I grew up and, Shabazz will tell you, he wasn’t the best leader at that time. He had some stuff he had to work on. We bumped heads a lot. Both of us being from inner cities, and being tough guys, we ain’t back down to each other. We had some rough practices.”

Then UConn was put on academic probation and barred from playing in the 2013 tournament. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun retired. Boatright, however, never seriously considered transferring. In January, Boatright’s cousin, Arin Williams, was shot to death in Aurora. They were like brothers.

“It’s just been such a long, tough journey,” says his mother, Tanesha, unable to hold back her tears during a phone interview from Dallas. “During the lowest moments, he was the one giving me encouragement.” When Boatright committed to USC in eighth grade, Tanesha was taken back by the criticism: that she was hungry for money, rushing her son into a major life decision. “After hearing the commentators and critics, it’s a relief to know I wasn’t a crazy mom,” says Tanesha, a single mother of four.

Boatright texted Tanesha just this morning, telling her to relax and smile. “Shouldn’t I be the one doing that?” Tanesha says. On offense, Boatright learned to accept his supporting role to Napier, the team’s top scorer. “Batman can’t function without Robin,” says Tanesha. “Even though Ryan’s not Batman, there are a thousand people in this world wishing they were Robin.” Boatright, who Tanesha says is on track to graduate, could still wind up leaving a year early for NBA riches. However, he’d probably benefit from a senior year of seasoning, out of Napier’s shadow.

But no matter what, Boatright conquered the early pressure, stayed in school longer than many pro prospects, and fought through setbacks and tragedy. If UConn’s upperclassman beat the hotshot frosh tonight, forgive this stupid spectator for giving a little cheer.

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