2014 NCAA Men's Final Four

NCAA Bracket 2014: X-Factors Who Will Swing Final Four Games

Ryan Boatright will be vital to UConn's title hopes.
Ryan Boatright will be vital to UConn's title hopes.Elsa/Getty Images
Josh CohenCorrespondent IIApril 2, 2014

Even at this late stage in the upset-filled NCAA bracket, it's going to take more than star power for the Final Four teams to earn their shot at the title.

Each of the remaining squads has a big name it relies on. Shabazz Napier has been pouring in points for the UConn Huskies. Wisconsin leaned on Frank Kaminsky to get past Arizona in the Elite Eight. From Julius Randle to Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and down through the roster, Kentucky is chock-full of talent. And even super-balanced Florida has Scottie Wilbekin running the show.

Those are known quantities, and their opponents will be prepared first and foremost to counter them. It's the guys who support the stars that will determine our finals matchup.

 

Florida: Dorian Finney-Smith

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 29: Dorian Finney-Smith #10 of the Florida Gators reacts against the Dayton Flyers  during the south regional final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the FedExForum on March 29, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee.  (Photo by Stre
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The showdown between Napier and Wilbekin will be appointment viewing, but what is Florida going to do about DeAndre Daniels?

UConn's 6'9", 195-pound forward has the diversified offensive game to go off at any time, so even if Wilbekin can bottle up Napier, the Huskies have an explosive option.

Though Daniels averaged just 13.0 points per game during the regular season, he hit that mark on 46.9 percent shooting from the field and 43.2 percent from beyond the arc. He also just dropped 27 points and 10 boards in a Sweet 16 victory over Iowa State, showing what his combination of speed, height and leaping ability can produce.

The Gator best suited to checking Daniels would be Dorian Finney-Smith. At 6'8", 212 pounds, the sophomore is the closest physical match Florida has, capable of chasing Daniels around the perimeter and with a little extra strength to rebuff him when he attempts to drive.

Finney-Smith is normally an offensive weapon off the bench, but the Gators will have to repurpose him for this game. Will Yeguete isn't fast enough to stick with Daniels for big minutes, so Finney-Smith will need to use his athleticism to do the job. It has worked for him before, albeit with some rotational botches thrown in.

Florida has incredible balance on offense, so Finney-Smith will be able to commit his whole focus to the defensive end. If he can lock up Daniels, the Gators will find enough ways to build a lead and keep it.

 

Kentucky: Marcus Lee

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30:  Marcus Lee #00 of the Kentucky Wildcats dunks the ball against the Michigan Wolverines  during the midwest regional final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 30, 2014 in Indianapolis, In
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Marcus Lee deserves more credit than being called just an X-factor. Kentucky's calling on him to come off the very end of the bench to battle Frank Kaminsky.

The freshman Wildcat wound up playing just 6.1 minutes per game this season, and he had played a total of three in the NCAA tournament prior to the Elite Eight. With Willie Cauley-Stein out for the Michigan game with an ankle injury, Lee filled in with a huge impact, giving Kentucky 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes.

That production came out of nowhere, and even if Cauley-Stein misses the Final Four bout with Wisconsin, Kentucky couldn't ask Lee to replicate those numbers.

But what the Wildcats need is for Lee to do his best Cauley-Stein impression on defense—using his long arms and athletic ability to bother Kaminsky, a 7-footer with true three-point range.

At 6'9", Lee isn't the perfect fit for the task, but he's the best Kentucky has at its disposal. Every shot he affects will go a long way toward another Wildcat victory.

 

UConn: Ryan Boatright

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30:  Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after a turnover by the Michigan State Spartans in the second half of the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30,
Elsa/Getty Images

He doesn't have to fill the stat sheet, but Ryan Boatright needs to put pressure on the Florida defense.

UConn's offense doesn't just run on Napier and Daniels putting on great displays of shot making. They're capable of doing so, but the degree of difficulty is too high and the output too erratic to rely upon those types of heroics.

Rather, the Huskies profit from the most reliable scoring opportunity there is: the free throw.

Through four tournament games, UConn is averaging 23.0 attempts per game from the line, knocking down a bonkers 88 percent of them as a team. The Huskies shot 76.1 percent for the season, which was still good for ninth in Division I, but this performance is extraordinary.

So Boatright doesn't have to hit a ton of shots—good thing, because he shot just 37.9 percent from the field during the regular season—but he has to attack the defense and draw fouls.

The faster UConn gets to the double bonus, the better its chances are of upsetting the Gators. He'll be spending much of his energy challenging Michael Frazier II with his excellent defense, but having Boatright join the dribble-drive attack will be vital.

 

Wisconsin: Sam Dekker

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 27:  Sam Dekker #15 of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts in the first half while taking on the Baylor Bears during the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Honda Center on March 27, 2014 in Anaheim, Califor
Harry How/Getty Images

Note how deep Kentucky is digging to give Marcus Lee significant minutes at this do-or-die time. Credit the Wildcats for having the depth to get that type of performance from a benchwarmer. At the same time, realize how tough a matchup Wisconsin is for Kentucky that Lee is now an essential contributor.

As much a problem as Kaminsky is for Kentucky, what's Sam Dekker going to do?

At 6'8", 220 pounds, he's not the true big Kaminsky is, but he's a forward who can shoot from beyond the arc, which is going to be very stressful for a Julius Randle or a Dakari Johnson who winds up guarding Dekker out there.

Granted, the sophomore has regressed from long range this season, hitting just 32.3 percent of his threes after knocking down 39.1 percent last year. He also has gotten locked up in each of the past two tournament games, scoring a combined 14 points.

Yet Dekker, like Boatright, doesn't need to do all the damage himself, but simply do enough to bend the defense into a favorable shape for Wisconsin to attack.

If Kentucky's bigs feel they have to respect Dekker beyond the arc, that opens up the lane for cutters and drivers to roam without fear of getting their shots swatted. A couple of key early jumpers could be all it takes for Dekker to make his presence felt.

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