After countless upsets and two thrilling weekends of NCAA tournament basketball, the Final Four is set as Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Kentucky are each two wins away from a national championship.
Below, we'll get you set for the most exciting weekend in April with the latest odds and predictions for Saturday's Final Four action in North Texas.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
|2014 NCAA Tournament Final Four Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|Sat, April 5||(7) Connecticut vs. (1) Florida||6:09 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
|Sat, April 5||(8) Kentucky vs. (2) Wisconsin||8:49 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
|2014 NCAA Tournament Championship Odds|
No. 1 Florida (-6.5) Over No. 7 Connecticut
Saturday's first national semifinal will pit the heavily-favored Gators up against the surprising Connecticut Huskies, who find themselves back in the Final Four for the second time in four years.
But while Kevin Ollie's overachieving Huskies are hotter than ever, they'll have an awfully tough time cooling off Billy Donovan's overall top seed, which has won 30 straight games since falling to Connecticut on a buzzer-beater in Storrs, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Therefore, expect the revenge factor to loom large in Saturday's showdown.
But more so than revenge, watch for defense to decide the winner. Only Virginia and San Diego State have been stingier on that end than Florida in 2013-14, and the Gators' performance in the tournament has been eye-popping. The Gators are allowing just 55 points per game in the Big Dance and have surrendered more than 60 points in just three of their last 11 games.
Those numbers don't bode well for a Connecticut team that ranks 142nd in the nation in team field-goal percentage and 144th in points per game.
Although the Huskies already have a blueprint for success against the SEC champions, it's unlikely they'll be plus-24 from beyond the arc the second time around. Plus, Florida is a much more confident team at this point in the season. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is likely to give Shabazz Napier everything he can handle on the perimeter while Florida's experienced bigs promise to make their presence felt on the interior.
Remember, Wilbekin missed the waning moments of Florida's loss to Connecticut on Dec. 2 because of a sprained right ankle.
Sure, Connecticut's run to the East Region title was awfully impressive, but Florida presents an entirely new challenge in terms of size, speed and experience.
No. 8 Kentucky (-2) Over No. 2 Wisconsin
Arguably the most dangerous team left in the tournament is eighth-seeded Kentucky, which has seen its talented freshmen make tremendous strides both physically and mentally over the past two weeks, per SportsCenter on Twitter:
As a result, the Wildcats will be two-point favorites over second-seeded Wisconsin in Arlington.
Although Kentucky could possibly be without 7-foot forward Willie Cauley-Stein, who injured his left ankle in the Sweet 16 versus Louisville, the Wildcats have the strength and size across the board to compete against the Badgers, who thrive on excellent ball movement around the perimeter.
But as always, rebounding will be a key factor in determining which team advances. And that's where Kentucky does a majority of its damage. The Wildcats rank fifth in the country in rebounding (41.3 per game) and are led by physical freshman Julius Randle, who's averaging a double-double this season.
Following Sunday's dramatic Elite Eight win over Michigan, Kentucky head coach John Calipari talked about his team's overall improvement since the start of the season, per USA Today's Nicole Auerbach:
We're going in a little bit blind. But I'm going to tell you, we've got good skill. We've got good size. We've got good toughness. We've got tougher through football practices...Now they're playing a little bit different. We're able to make tougher shots when we're getting bumped and grabbed a little bit.
With the 6'9", 250-pound Randle having pulled 48 rebounds through the Wildcats' first four tournament games, Wisconsin will need sensational performances from Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker on the glass.
Offensively, the 7-foot Kaminsky will be a tough cover for Kentucky. The junior forward has been on fire of late, averaging 22 points per game over his last three games and posting 28 points and 11 rebounds in the Badgers' Elite Eight win over Arizona.
But with the Harrison brothers now combining with Randle to give the Wildcats a dynamic inside-out scoring punch, it's difficult to imagine the Badgers overcoming Kentucky, who will have a massive crowd on their side in AT&T Stadium.
*All spread info according to Covers.com.
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