And then there were four. The NCAA tournament has narrowed down to four schools vying for the coveted championship in Arlington, Texas.
Before earning a spot in Monday's finale, each Final Four contender must knock down one more roadblock on Saturday night. Each matchup features a low-seeded, big-name school looking to maintain an improbable run.
All Your Bracket Essentials
After becoming the first No. 7 seed in the 64-plus-team era to make the Final Four, the Connecticut Huskies will look to further their historical feat by becoming the first champions. To do that, they'll need to dethrone the Florida Gators, who have not lost a game since the two teams last met in early December.
The winner will either face No. 2 Wisconsin or No. 8 Kentucky. Dominant tournament play from Frank Kaminsky has led the Badgers to the Final Four, while the Wildcats are finally living up to their preseason hype after a disappointing regular season.
Making the Final Four is an accomplishment in itself, but which two men's basketball squads will advance to the title game?
Florida vs. Connecticut
|Final Four Schedule|
|Sat., April 5||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|Sat., April 5||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
|Mon., April 7||National Championship (Teams TBD)||9:10 p.m.||CBS|
Every team that has lasted this far through the NCAA's grueling bracket has embarked on a winning streak, but the other three schools can't match Florida's torrid run.
The Gators are on a roll, having rattled off 30 consecutive victories since losing to the Huskies on Dec. 2. Eight of their 10 March triumphs came by double digits.
But as ESPN College Basketball's Twitter account noted, such a lofty winning streak does not guarantee Final Four success.
Two main factors paved the way for UConn's big victory four months ago. The first, of course, was Shabazz Napier, who scored 26 points and sunk a buzzer-beating jumper. He has continued to carry the Huskies this tournament, averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Yet he credited a team-wide confidence for their March Madness success in ESPN's Dana O'Neil's piece about the star senior.
"We believed in each other,'' Napier said. "Life gives you opportunities sometimes and sometimes you don't take them by the horns. We understood we had to take them by the horns.''
Three-point shooting, however, embedded the team's early victory over Florida more so than faith. Connecticut drained 11 deep balls—five from Napier—to Florida's three, making a huge difference during UConn's 65-64 victory. On a typical night, the Huskies average 7.3 long-range conversions on 38.9 percent shooting.
They far surpassed their mean production to hand Florida a rare defeat, so the safe money is on Florida obtaining vengeance without allowing a surplus of three-pointers.
Prediction: Florida 68, UConn 61
Wisconsin vs. Kentucky
Kentucky has stolen all the headlines after knocking off the undefeated Wichita State Shockers before slaying perennial favorite Louisville, but Wisconsin deserves just as much, if not more praise.
By Nate Silver's calculations on FiveThirtyEight, Wisconsin has enjoyed the most impressive run of the remaining Final Four squads, outperforming its projected point margin by plus-12.
The improvement in the model’s esteem for Wisconsin is partially the result of the Badgers’ upset of No. 1 seed Arizona on Saturday. But it has more to do with their performance in earlier rounds. Wisconsin thrashed Baylor by 17 points Thursday, and the Badgers beat American University by 40 points in their opening game. On average, Wisconsin has outperformed the FiveThirtyEight point spread by 12 points, as compared with nine points for Connecticut and four for Kentucky.
The biggest reason for that discrepancy is Kaminsky, the 7-foot center who accumulated 28 points and 11 rebounds in Wisconsin's upset over Arizona.
The junior, who was sporadically used during the season, tallied 19 points in each of the two previous contests. On the other side, the defense has surrendered a mere 56.75 points per game throughout the tournament.
Per KenPom's efficiency ratings, each squad belongs here as top-10 teams with top-10 offenses. Kentucky was expected to be a top performer before losing 10 regular-season games, but the Wildcats have won six of their last seven, only losing a one-point thriller against Florida.
But a freshman-filled team winning all four tournament games by a combined 17 points is a dangerous formula for sustained success. Look for Bo Ryan to make his first career championship clash after escaping with a narrow win.
Prediction: Wisconsin 77, Kentucky 75
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