Half of the Final Four is set after Day 1 of the Elite Eight battles in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
One of the two No. 1 seeds in action proved to be worthy of its spot. The Wisconsin Badgers sent the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats packing. But the top overall seed, the Florida Gators, dispatched the Dayton Flyers on Saturday.
The Gators held another opponent under 60 points and 40 percent shooting from the field. The 62-52 win over the Flyers was just another powerful performance from a team that hangs its hat on its defense.
Scottie Wilbekin led the Gators with 23 points, and Florida out-rebounded Dayton 37-26. Not only is Wilbekin scoring, but he’s also taking immaculate care of the ball of late.
Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports has the specifics:
Scottie Wilbekin's now gone more than 2 full #Florida games w/o committing a turnover. Not since the 9 min mark of 1st half of Pitt game— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) March 29, 2014
Florida has now won 30 straight games. Even head coach Billy Donovan is impressed, per The Associated Press:
The Arizona-Wisconsin regional final went into overtime, but the Badgers simply made more plays with the game on the line. Wisconsin’s 64-63 win was keyed by Frank Kaminsky’s 28-point performance.
All game, the Wildcats struggled to find an answer for Kaminsky’s inside-outside attack.
The Gators will play the winner of the East Regional final between the No. 4-seeded Michigan State Spartans and the No. 7-seeded UConn Huskies.
Wisconsin awaits the winner of the Midwest Region. The No. 8-seeded Kentucky Wildcats face the No. 2-seeded Michigan Wolverines.
Here’s a look at the most updated bracket.
Want to catch Day 2 of the Elite Eight? Of course you do. Here’s how you can watch. Just under the table are my predictions for Sunday’s games.
|Date||Regional Finals||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|Sun, March 30||Michigan State vs. UConn||2:20 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|Sun, March 30||Kentucky vs. Michigan||5:05 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
Why Kentucky Will Win
Kentucky had its ups and downs in the regular season, but its clicking on all cylinders right now. The turnaround has been so drastic, ESPN’s Mike Greenberg from The Mike and Mike Show thinks the team's journey exemplifies how meaningless the regular season is:
The best illustration ever of how the tournament has rendered the college basketball season meaningless is #Kentucky right now.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) March 29, 2014
Nowadays, the Wildcats simply wear teams down.
In every tournament game this season, Kentucky has out-rebounded its opponent and shot more free throws. Julius Randle’s presence in the paint and the dribble penetration from the Harrison twins and James Young have been a major factor.
Against a player with a post presence similar to Randle’s—Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes—the Wolverines barely survived in the Sweet 16.
The major difference between Kentucky and Tennessee is depth and scoring options. The Wildcats have the size and talent around Randle to make Michigan pay for slanting too much attention Randle’s way.
Michigan senior Jordan Morgan was huge on both ends against Stokes, but Randle represents an even bigger defensive task. Randle’s ability to put the ball on the floor could leave Morgan in foul trouble, much like it did with Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell in the Sweet 16 matchup.
Michigan does possess a great equalizer.
The Wolverines shoot the three so well (49 percent as a team in the NCAA tournament). Long-range bombing has been the team’s biggest weapon. Against an excellent perimeter defending team like Kentucky, the threes may not fall with the requisite regularity.
Even if the shots are falling, Michigan will be facing an offense with multiple options. Kentucky is finally playing up to its enormous potential. Its run should continue with a tough win over Michigan on Sunday.
Why Michigan State Will Win
Almost no one expected UConn to be one win away from reaching the Final Four. After a solid win over the Iowa State Cyclones in the Sweet 16, that’s exactly where head coach Kevin Ollie has his team.
Behind season-long leader Shabazz Napier and the rapidly improving DeAndre Daniels, the Huskies have earned their spot in the Elite Eight.
That said, UConn is set to meet its match on Sunday.
The Spartans’ health and rhythm as a team have aligned at the best possible time. Winners of six in a row, Michigan State has been playing great basketball during the postseason.
It won the Big Ten tournament and is a serious threat to add the biggest jewel of the postseason.
Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson have seemingly taken turns leading the offense, and the team defense has been solid.
During their six-game run, the Spartans have only allowed one team to shoot higher than 42 percent from the field.
Aside from the way the Spartans have been playing, the biggest edge is in coaching. Ollie has had a great season, but Spartans head coach Tom Izzo is one of the best at tournament time.
He has his team locked, loaded and headed to the Final Four.
Follow me. I’m addicted to hoops.