Four teams. Four very different paths to North Texas. Four excellent coaches, a collection of stars, a wealth of storylines.
Bring on the Final Four.
Below, we'll take a look at the updated odds for the remaining teams alive in the NCAA tournament and analyze why they've received the odds Vegas has given them.
Four sets of dreams, still alive. So which team will achieve them?
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It's hardly surprising to see the Florida Gators as the favorites. After all, they are the only No. 1 seed remaining in the tournament and have, you know, won 30 straight games.
Yes, 30 in a row.
They are also an experienced, veteran side that is efficient on both sides of the court (first in defensive efficiency and 18th in offensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.com) and can either get out and run in transition or play in the halfcourt. They have a clutch performer in Scottie Wilbekin and a combination of strong guard play and interior stoppers.
Oh, and their head coach, Billy Donovan, has been down this road before and is one of the best coaches going in any sport, period. Consider the following, from Eamonn Brennan of ESPN:
The only two losing seasons of Donovan's career were his first two. By his third season, his team was in the Sweet 16. In 1999-2000, his fourth season, he led a suddenly stacked, blue-chip roster to a national runner-up run. At 34, he was the youngest coach since Pitino to get there. Between 1999 and 2008, Florida didn't miss an NCAA tournament. In 2006 and 2007, Donovan became the first coach since Mike Krzyzewski to win back-to-back titles.
Before Donovan, Florida won one SEC title and went to five NCAA tournaments in 81 years. Since then, Florida has won six SEC titles and been to 14 NCAA tournaments in 18 seasons. This year's Elite Eight trip was Donovan's fourth straight. If UF wins the 2014 national title, he will become just the sixth coach in history to win three NCAA titles.
Examining his legacy relative to his own school does Donovan a disservice. At 48, he's already one of the most successful basketball coaches of all time.
They have also played every other Final Four team this season. While they lost to both Wisconsin and UConn earlier in the year, they beat Kentucky three times this season.
Yes, three times.
But Kentucky comes into the Final Four with the next-best odds because they have the most talent on paper. You know very well by now that they were the preseason No. 1, or that at some point late in the season, a group of highly talented individuals started playing like a team.
The Wildcats are led by double-double machine Julius Randle, who has continued to dominate in the NCAA tournament, as ESPN Stats and Information notes:
Julius Randle: 2nd freshman with double-double in 1st 4 tournament games (Gene Banks, 1978 Duke)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 30, 2014
Kentucky's length and athleticism will be their biggest weapon against a Wisconsin team that is excellent on the offensive side of the ball, led by the nearly-impossible-to-guard Frank Kaminsky.
Bo Ryan is also one heck of a coach, and folks around the country were pleased to see him reach his first Final Four. Of course, Ryan was only interested in talking about his players after they knocked off Arizona in the Elite Eight, per Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News:
It’s always about the players. It should always be about the players. My dad was always about the kids that he helped mentor growing up. That’s why I do it.
To be able to see the faces of these guys, to see the genuine excitement. I can remember some of the great teams my dad had and some of the kids, how they acted when they won their first championships … the joy. That’s all I wanted to see.
While Ryan has been to this dance before, Kevin Ollie is in new territory with UConn. Of course, it helps to have Shabazz Napier, one of the top players in the country this season, and a supporting cast that includes Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels.
The Huskies are considered the underdogs of this group, according to Vegas, but then they would have been considered the least likely of these four teams to get this far. In other words, doubt them at your own risk.