NCAA Basketball Tournament 2014: Bold Predictions for Final Four

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NCAA Basketball Tournament 2014: Bold Predictions for Final Four
Jae C. Hong

After Sunday, 64 of the 67 NCAA tournament games will have been played, and the Final Four will be set. Based on what we have seen during the first two weeks of the Big Dance, predictions have a way of going awry in a hurry.

However, with just four teams left standing—not to mention an entire regular season to judgeit becomes easier to forecast things that might happen at AT&T Stadium on April 5. 

Florida and Wisconsin have punched their tickets to Texas, and two more teams will join them on Sunday. Using matchups, it is time to start looking ahead to what will happen. 

 

The Michigan State vs. Connecticut winner will defeat Florida in the Final Four

Frank Franklin II

There aren't a lot of things the Florida Gators can't do as a team. They have won 30 straight games and haven't allowed more than 68 points in an NCAA tournament game. Billy Donovan's team is also a top-10 team in points allowed and defensive efficiency. 

It sounds like a recipe for success in the Final Four, don't you think?

Not so fast. Even though their record since December 2 says otherwise, these Gators are not perfect. 

Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated did his best to find the areas where the Gators are flawed during a mailbag Q&A in February: 

The first is that the Gators do not have a bona fide post scorer. Patric Young provides rebounding and toughness (his dive to the floor to gather a loose ball, which sealed a win at Tennessee Tuesday night, should go into a time capsule), but he is not the kind of player you can throw it to in the post and tell him to score...

The second weakness is free throw shooting. As a team, the Gators are making just 65.9 percent, which ranks 11th in the SEC and 291st in the country. 

Florida has been better from the foul line in the tournament, hitting 73.9 percent of its attempts through the Elite Eight, though that's still not a great total. It just hasn't mattered late in games because the Gators' smallest margin of victory has been 10 points. 

The lack of an inside scorer is something that Michigan State or Connecticut can exploit. The Spartans have one of the best in the country with Adreian Payne, who scored 41 points against Delaware and averaged 16.5 points per game during the season. 

Connecticut has found the secondary scorer it needed in the form of 6'9" forward DeAndre Daniels. The star junior has come to life in the tournament, averaging 18.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. 

As good as Young is defensively, he hasn't been tested in the tournament against a player like Payne or Daniels. The Gators haven't been tested thus far, with their best win coming against a one-dimensional UCLA team in the Sweet 16. 

Michigan State and Connecticut are capable of matching Florida's defensive intensity and have scorers inside and outside to overcome Donovan's full-court press. It's been a great run, but the Gators are going home next Saturday. 

 

Wisconsin is a championship team

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

With Kentucky and Michigan battling it out for the Midwest Region and a date with Wisconsin in the Final Four, it's only natural to fall in love with the Wildcats and Wolverines because of their star power and how they've played in the tournament. 

Kentucky has finally found the balance and cohesiveness needed to let all that raw talent play up to its potential. The Wildcats' rebirth started with the loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game and has continued with impressive wins over Wichita State and Louisville. 

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Michigan has evolved from a team that was dependent on one player, Mitch McGary, into a dynamic, perimeter-based offense led by Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. The team's biggest problems—size and reboundinghaven't mattered against longer teams like Texas and Tennessee. 

When you have two powerhouse teams like that battling it out, Wisconsin might seem like an afterthought, but don't underestimate Bo Ryan's squad. 

Wisconsin has earned a reputation as a defensive juggernaut that struggles to shoot the ball. But that's not the way this year's team works. 

The Badgers stormed back from a 15-point deficit against an Oregon team that can shoot the lights out by scoring 48 points in the second half and making 11 three-pointers. 

Frank Kaminsky had a game to remember against Arizona in the Elite Eight with 28 points and 10 rebounds in Wisconsin's overtime victory. 

And in case you were worried that Wisconsin sacrificed defensive pressure for offensive firepower, here's what C.L. Brown of ESPN.com wrote after the Badgers' Elite Eight win: "Wisconsin made it tough all around on the Wildcats, holding them to 40 percent shooting. It was Arizona's worst shooting outing since making just 35.9 percent in a 69-66 loss at Arizona State on Feb. 14."

Kentucky has had lapses shooting the ball this season, ranking 115th in field-goal percentage, while Michigan is so dependent on shooting three-pointers that one bad day is going to end its season. 

Like Michigan State and Connecticut, Wisconsin has come together in the NCAA tournament and will make it to the title game. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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