So much excitement has led up to the 2014 Final Four, and the NCAA tournament isn't about to get any less maddening.
Florida is in the midst of a 30-game winning streak. Wisconsin has Frank Kaminsky, a gawkish seven-footer with an impressive jumper and a surprising off-the-bounce game, who is turning into a star. UConn has battled this far basically by hitting all of its free throws as opponents look on hopeless. And Kentucky finally decided to earn its preseason No. 1 ranking.
When the action shifts to Arlington, Texas, these four teams are going to give us a compelling finale to a tournament that has gripped us for weeks. The fight for a shot at a national championship is going to be thrilling.
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|Date||National Semifinals||Time (ET)||TV||Picks|
|Sat, April 5||(7) Connecticut vs. (1) Florida||6:09 p.m.||TBS||Florida|
|Sat, April 5||(8) Kentucky vs. (2) Wisconsin||8:49 p.m.||TBS||Kentucky|
|Date||National Championship||Time (ET)||TV||Picks|
(7) UConn vs. (1) Florida
No one has beaten the Gators since the Huskies did it back on December 2, but Florida isn't going to let that happen again.
The line Florida advocates stick to is the Gators are undefeated this season when at full strength; superb point guard Scottie Wilbekin was serving a suspension when Florida fell to Wisconsin, and his backup, Kasey Hill, missed the UConn loss.
If that doesn't seem like a very significant absence, granted, it could've been Wilbekin out, still. But Florida's greatest strengths are depth and balance. Casey Prather led all Gators with just 14.2 points per game during the regular season, and Hill is one of seven Florida players seeing more than 20 minutes of action per game.
After a slow start and the gradual building of a staunch rotation, this Florida team grew into something outstanding. Wilbekin's on-court leadership and two-way play has made him the best floor general in college basketball, and his teammates are tough, smart and selfless on both ends of the floor. Not to mention, he can sink any shot he wants.
As for the UConn team that took down Florida, Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels are still potent scorers, particularly Napier. They, along with Ryan Boatright, will drive right at the Gator D and look to get into the bonus, but Florida is good enough defensively to guard the Huskies without excessive fouling.
UConn loses a major source of its scoring if it can't frequently get to the line. Against a deep Florida team that has so many options to contain, that's insurmountable.
Florida 74, UConn 65
(8) Kentucky vs. (2) Wisconsin
Wisconsin has been consistently strong all season, while Kentucky looked confused on the court for months. Somehow, they're both peaking at the same time.
Kaminsky, who does not look the part of big-time scorer, tore up a very good Arizona defense in the Elite Eight, dropping 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds with a mix of jumpers, drives off pump fakes and some nice back-to-the-basket play.
Frank Kaminsky carried Wisconsin all day. Goes for 28 Pts and 11 Reb to lead the Badgers to the Final Four. pic.twitter.com/AVZS4RGWMF— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 30, 2014
Kentucky has to wish it had a healthy Willie Cauley-Stein to combat that threat. Cauley-Stein injured his ankle in the Sweet 16 win over Louisville, and ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil reported John Calipari "doubts" the center will suit up against Wisconsin.
Cauley-Stein, when healthy, has both the size and the mobility to match Kaminsky. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky's other seven-footer, isn't quick enough to stop him off the bounce, while Marcus Lee, a 6'9" forward, has the athleticism but cedes a few inches.
Though Lee was stuck at the end of the bench prior to Cauley-Stein's injury, he will likely draw the assignment often. His long arms and quickness will help make up for the height difference.
If he can contain Kaminsky, Kentucky has Wisconsin in perfect position; there are too many Wildcats to stop.
Julius Randle will make Lee's life easier by going right at Kaminsky inside and using his physicality to get buckets. On the perimeter, both Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison will have size advantages without ceding speed, which will allow them to get wherever they'd like on the floor. And when those guys are clicking, James Young will be able to match the Badger's threes with plenty of open looks.
Even if Kaminsky turns out to be the best player on the floor, Kentucky could have the next four, and talent will win out.
Kentucky 71, Wisconsin 64