There is an exciting mix of teams in this year's Final Four for the NCAA tournament.
The Florida Gators are the tournament's No. 1 overall seed and are a senior-laden team. They are set to face No. 7 seed Connecticut. The Huskies feature the tournament's best player in Shabazz Napier and are one of just two teams to beat Florida this season.
Which team wins the championship?
The other team to beat Florida this year is also a fellow Final Four participant: No. 2 seed Wisconsin. The Badgers are another experienced team. Although they don't feature a lot of highlight-worthy plays, they play great team basketball and are led by skilled big man Frank Kaminsky.
Bo Ryan's Badgers will face the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky is the lowest seed (8) in this group, but they are the most talented team. Kentucky began the year as the nation's No. 1 team due to an insanely talented group of incoming freshmen. The Wildcats struggled with consistency for much of the season, but they have peaked at the right time.
Check out the schedule these four teams will face in Arlington, and then I'll highlight how the two semifinal games are going to play out.
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|Date||National Semifinals||Time (ET)||TV||Odds||Picks|
|Sat, April 5||(7) Connecticut vs. (1) Florida||6:09 p.m.||TBS||Fla. -7||Florida wins but doesn't cover|
|Sat, April 5||(8) Kentucky vs. (2) Wisconsin||8:49 p.m.||TBS||Ky. -2.5||Wisconsin|
|Date||National Championship||Time (ET)||TV||Odds||Picks|
|Mon, April 7||National Championship - TBD||9:10 p.m.||CBS||N/A||Florida|
Source: NCAA.com and VegasInsider.com
No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 1 Florida
As I mentioned above, UConn beat Florida earlier in the season. There is no reason to use that game to predict a win by the Huskies this time around, however.
That game came way back on Dec. 2. Connecticut hosted and won 65-64 off of Napier buzzer-beater.
Things will be different this time. Connecticut will not enjoy the home court for this matchup. That alone is enough to account for a one-point difference, and it isn't going to be the biggest difference.
In the first meeting, the Gators went the final minutes without the services of their best perimeter defender, senior Scottie Wilbekin. He was forced to the sideline with an injury. Now, there is no telling if that altered the outcome of the game, but it is safe to say Napier found things a little easier without Wilbekin on the court.
This is not to suggest that Wilbekin will be able to stop Napier. Gators head coach Billy Donovan helped put this into perspective with the quote in the following tweet from The Gainesville Sun's Robbie Abreu:
Donovan said a great offensive player (Napier) usually has the edge over a great defensive player (Wilbekin).— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) March 31, 2014
Napier is going to get his points, but he is going to have to work for them, and that will be part of the central theme of this game. The physical and deep Gators are going to wear the Huskies down.
With both teams capable of playing excellent defense, the score in this one will be kept down and it will stay close. If you're looking to make a little wager, use this fact as the reason to take Connecticut and the points. These two both scored in the 60s when they first met and likely will again. That makes seven points especially valuable.
If you're looking to identify the winner, however, take Florida. The Gators will pull away by enough late that Napier won't be able to win it with a last-second shot this time.
Prediction: Florida 62, UConn 59
No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Wisconsin
Kentucky is rolling, but the Wildcats don't look like they will be at full strength. USA Today's Nicole Auerbach passed along this quote form Kentucky coach John Calipari:
Calipari on Willie Cauley-Stein: "I doubt he plays. He will be on our bench cheering like crazy."— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 31, 2014
The absence of the mobile big man did not slow down Kentucky in the last round. Forwards Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee came off the bench to combine for 18 points and 11 rebounds in the 75-72 victory over Michigan.
Cauley-Stein's absence may be a little more noticeable in this matchup, however, due to the Badgers' interior game led by 7-footer Frank Kaminsky.
Kaminsky has been one of the most dominant players in this tournament. He scored just eight in the Badgers' tournament opener, but Wisconsin won that game by 40, and Kaminsky played just 20 minutes.
He scored 19 points in each of his next two games and then went for 28 against Arizona in the Elite Eight.
In those last three games, he's combined to go 27-of-46 from the floor and haul in 20 rebounds.
It remains to be seen if Kentucky can slow him down. Calipari summed up his team's chances of accomplishing that task well in the following quote provided by Auerbach, saying, "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."
Kentucky has the athleticism to match up and slow down Kaminsky, but their inexperience will cost them in the end. Kaminsky is surrounded by good shooters, and he can make teams pay when shooters are left open.
Against Baylor's zone in the Sweet 16, Kaminsky dished out three assists. This will help Wisconsin maintain offensive rhythm throughout this game and Kentucky won't have the consistency to keep up.
Prediction: Wisconsin 74, Kentucky 70