The matchup people have been anticipating for months finally arrives Tuesday.
Connecticut (39-0) versus Notre Dame (37-0) for the national championship was -- in UConn coach Geno Auriemma's words after his team won Sunday -- "almost inevitable." The two unbeaten giants of the game will meet Tuesday (ESPN/WatchESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) to renew a rivalry lost to conference realignment but regained by perfection. For the first time, two unbeaten college basketball teams (men or women) will meet for a title.
Not only have both teams won all of their games this season, they've done it with utter domination. Notre Dame's regular-season victories over Virginia and Maryland (their January meeting, not Sunday's night's 87-61 whitewash in the national semifinals) marked the only two games all season that anyone came within single digits of either team.
The Huskies are trying to complete a fifth undefeated season and equal Baylor's 40-0 mark of 2011-12. The Irish are trying to complete their first unbeaten season and win their second title. Doing so would mean a victory over UConn at the Final Four for the third time in four years.
When they were members of the Big East, they met 12 times in the previous three seasons; the Irish hold a 7-5 advantage. UConn lost just 11 total games in that span. If any team is geared up to topple UConn and prevent the Huskies from a record ninth national championship, it's the Irish.
Given how each of these teams has played lately, Tuesday's finale could be a contrast in styles: UConn's impenetrable defense versus Notre Dame's fluid, highly efficient offense. The final score might very well come down to just that, but these teams aren't total opposites. Each does myriad things well, and neither has a weakness of any magnitude. The key is in finding what strengths are most relevant to this matchup.
These are the two best passing teams in the country. As a result, UConn ranks first in the nation in assists per game (Notre Dame is second). Notre Dame is first in field goal percentage (and 3-point percentage); the Huskies are the second-best shooting team. No two squads are better at creating good shots -- and no one else has the talent to hit them with such regularity.
Notre Dame's offense has been the better of the two lately, scoring at least 84 points in all five of its NCAA tournament games. Even without one of the offense's quarterbacks, Natalie Achonwa, who is out with a torn ACL, the Irish didn't miss a beat and were exceptional against Maryland. Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd give Notre Dame two players capable of scoring 30 points each game, and they can do it in a variety of ways, whether knocking down jumpers from the perimeter or driving inside.
Only Oregon scored more points per game this season than the Irish. UConn ranked 10th. But the Huskies lead the nation in scoring margin, and that tracks back to UConn's defense. Frankly, the Huskies' offense has been average in the NCAA tournament. The team's shooting touch generally hasn't been there, but the defense has been the constant. Scoring against UConn is like trying to blow a medicine ball through a straw. It starts out difficult and gets harder as you go. The Huskies slowly ground Stanford into submission Sunday. BYU and Texas A&M would probably say the same thing.