March Madness 2014: Highlighting the Final Four's Biggest X-Factors

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March Madness 2014: Highlighting the Final Four's Biggest X-Factors
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NCAA tournament has been full of as many twists as an M. Night Shyamalan movie. After all, not many of us were completely successful in picking the teams comprising the Final Four.

We've seen upsets in every single round of the tournament to this point, and that trend could very well continue when the four surviving teams face off on April 5.

So, how do these underdogs keep pulling off improbable victories? X-factors.

X-factors can be a number of things. A formerly unknown player coming off the bench and lighting up the scoreboard, a friendly location for a specific player or team and a player recreating past success are all forms of this phenomenon.

That being said, let's break down the biggest X-factors of the Final Four.

 

Julius Randle Is Coming Home

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Home-court advantage is a big deal in college hoops. Student sections are boisterous, the setting is familiar and the environment is friendly.

Kentucky forward Julius Randle is getting the ultimate home-court advantage during the Final Four. No, the game is not being played at Kentucky—Randle is heading back to his home town.

Randle is a Dallas native, and he will see plenty of familiar faces—including his family and friends—from his old stomping grounds in the stands.

That's the ultimate motivation.

Randle's mother Carolyn Kyles taught her son how to play ball with his unmatched physicality. She explained her tutelage during an interview with Kyle Tucker of USA Today:

I would push him around. He'd fall down and hop up all mad. I'd throw hook shots on him, and it would just kill him. I couldn't feel guilty, because this was the position I was in. I had to be both mother and father. I couldn't be weak. I had to be strong. I couldn't baby him. I had to make sure my kids were strong, show them how to get out there and fight for what they wanted. That's what they saw in me every day.

On April 5, Kyles will get to see all of that pay off for her son when she watches him take the court in North Texas.

 

Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Finney-Smith came off the bench in Florida's 62-52 victory over Dayton in the Elite Eight, he logged 26 minutes of playing time—the fourth most on the team.

He finished the game with just five points—all of which came from free throws—but he was an absolute force down low.

Finney-Smith accumulated nine total rebounds against the Flyers, with six on the offensive end of the court. His aggressive nature on the boards gives the Gators plenty of second-chance opportunities.

Just how effective has Finney-Smith been? Matthew Hatfield of VirginiaPreps.com tweeted a prediction before Florida faced off against UCLA in the Sweet 16:

He was right. Kyle Anderson was held to just 4-of-11 shooting for 11 points in the Gators' 79-68 victory.

It's well known that the Gators only lost two games this season—one of which came on Nov. 12, 2013 to this same Wisconsin team. The difference in that matchup was the absence of Finney-Smith.

Without him on the court, Wisconsin's big men took over and out-rebounded Florida 31-28 in that game.

Florida enters the Final Four set to play a surging Kentucky team full of aggressive big men capable of dominating the boards. Finney-Smith's presence will be felt more than ever on April 5.

 

Can Shabazz Napier Do It Again?

Elsa/Getty Images

Speaking of past Florida losses, the team's only other one came in a wild finish against Connecticut on Dec. 2, 2013.

With Connecticut down by a point with eight seconds to go, Napier attempted the game-winner, missed, corralled the rebound and bucketed the buzzer-beating jumper as time expired.

Don't remember how it played out? Take a look:

Napier was brilliant throughout that contest. He finished with 26 points after going 9-of-15 from the field, including hitting 5-of-8 three-point attempts against Florida's stout defense.

If anyone understands that Florida is a beatable team, it's Napier.

He enters this Final Four matchup looking to recreate the same success he found early in the season against this same Gators team. Thoughts of that incredible finish must be playing on repeat in his head as the game approaches.

Needless to say, he should be filled with confidence.

Napier is riding a hot streak right now, and with the addition of a heroic performance on his mind, he has a great chance to do it all over again.

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