The path to the Final Four hasn't been easy for the likes of Florida and UConn, but each team will be playing hard on April 5 for the chance to clinch a berth in the NCAA title game.
We haven't been able to count on much this tournament. Top teams have dropped like flies to lower-ranked opponents and momentum has carried teams to second-half resurgences to steal wins.
We have been able to count on one thing, however: Top players performing when needed most.
This Final Four matchup features serious talent with some of college basketball's top players taking part. Their efforts will certainly impact the final score.
Here are my predictions as to just how well they'll do with a trip to the title game on the line.
Look for Shabazz Napier to post strong numbers against the Gators:
These two teams squared off way back on Dec. 2. The Huskies won by a single point (65-64) and Napier stole the show. He dropped 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting. That prompted UConn coach Kevin Ollie to tell the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com) just how impressed he was with Napier:
Shabazz was phenomenal. When we needed the big shot he hit it. When we needed the big play he made it. ... He is one of the big-time players to wear the jersey and walk on the floor at Gampel Pavilion.
Napier has stolen the show at this NCAA tournament and he'll look to continue scoring from all over the court. Florida will give him different looks defensively, but he has already shown that he can best its efforts. The Gators will really have to get creative and focus on constantly getting a hand in his face.
Stopping Napier will be critical to the Gators' game plan. I don't know if they'll be able to completely shut him down, however.
Patric Young will be crucial to Florida's success, as he is a monster in the paint. This is likely how he'll fare:
He was impressive against UConn in early December, totaling 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He also pulled down seven boards (three of which were offensive), stole the ball twice and blocked one shot. Young makes his presence felt on both ends of the floor.
The Gators won't beat the Huskies without Young. Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II are very talented, but UConn will be able to handle a one-dimensional attack. Both of the aforementioned players make their impacts on the perimeter.
When they are met with defenders, they'll need to look down low to Young.
Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah are essentially non-factors offensively for UConn at the center position, so Young will have his way with them defensively. As defenders, they'll give him a bit more of a problem.
Despite that, look for Young to play well.
Scottie Wilbekin has been the driving force behind Florida's run in the NCAA tournament. Expect him to keep that play up:
Wilbekin was just so-so against UConn in December. He dropped 15 points, but it was on just 6-of-14 shooting. He also turned the ball over three times.
Scottie Wilbekin has not committed a turnover in his last 94 minutes on the court.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 30, 2014
By all accounts, Wilbekin has been one of the best players of the tournament. His propensity to hit big shots has really helped Florida support its ranking as the No. 1 overall seed.
He'll be forced to go shot for shot with Napier against UConn. While that's a battle he might not win, don't think Wilbekin won't make his presence felt. As the team leader, he'll do his part to keep the Gators rolling.
There are plenty of other talents in this one that deserve recognition. Here's how they'll perform:
|Michael Frazier II, Florida||16 PTS, 4-of-12 FG, 5 A, 1 ST|
|Casey Prather, Florida||11 PTS, 3-of-7 FG, 7 REB|
|Niels Giffey, UConn||15 PTS, 5-of-11 FG, 3 A, 3 REB|
|Ryan Boatright, UConn||9 PTS, 2-of-7 FG, 2 A|
Think I made some shoddy predictions? Let me hear it in the comments section.