It seems like just yesterday that we were making our preseason picks on who would cut down the nets in April (thanks for nothing, Oklahoma State!), but we're now actually just a few days away from finding out which Final Four team will emerge as 2014 national champion.
As we have in each round of the tournament thus far, we asked our experts to make their predictions on who will win each game. Previously, it was structured as a bunch of pregame analysis and then simply a team listed with each expert's seal of approval.
This time, however, we're making all three experts justify their picks.
They unanimously picked the favorite in the first game, but there was some dissension on the latter one.
How'd they fare? Scroll down to see updated results from Saturday's national semifinals, then compare that to what the experts predicted.
Connecticut vs. Florida
Top-ranked Florida was supposed to be the team that dominated with defense, but the Gators got locked down by still-streaking UConn in a stunningly easy 63-53 win by the Huskies. DeAndre Daniels continued his phenomenal postseason with 20 points and 10 rebounds (all defensive) in the win.
Shabazz Napier was quieter than usual as a scorer, finishing with just 12 points, but he did dish out six assists and grab four steals. Meanwhile, backcourt mate Ryan Boatright derailed the Florida offense with relentless ball pressure, even if he only recorded one official steal.
For the Gators, postseason hero Scottie Wilbekin vanished in the face of Boatright’s D, scoring just four points on 2-of-9 shooting. Patric Young did plenty of scoring against the skinny Huskies front line, but his inability to protect the rim on the other end did far more damage than his 19 points could make up for.
Worst of all for the Gators, Michael Frazier II hit the team’s only three-pointer on Florida’s opening possession. After that, the Huskies clamped down on the perimeter and Florida went 0-of-9 the rest of the way.
For more on the Huskies' convincing win, click here.
Update by Thad Novak
No team in the tournament is as hungry as Florida. The Gators start four seniors—all of whom have lost in the Elite Eight the past three seasons. Connecticut needed a miraculous, last-second shot to defeat Billy Donovan’s squad in Storrs back on Dec. 2, but Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin, one of the nation’s top defenders, wasn’t on the court for the final three minutes because of an injury.
The Gators are a more complete team than they were four months ago. Their confidence is better and so is their chemistry. They’ll beat Connecticut on Saturday.
Shabazz Napier is as good as they come, and his supporting cast is exponentially better than the one Kemba Walker carried to a national title three years ago. DeAndre Daniels is playing about as well as we have ever seen him play, and Ryan Boatright is no slouch, either.
But if we're making comparisons to national champions of yesteryear, Wilbekin is Peyton Siva with a killer instinct. He makes all of the clutch plays and hasn't committed a turnover in the last two-and-a-half games. Napier will make things interesting with his points, but Wilbekin wins the war with his leadership.
Every advantage Connecticut has had in the tournament will be negated by Florida's defense. It's almost impossible to stop Napier entirely, but Wilbekin has as good a chance as any. Daniels has had a great tournament, but Florida's 4 men match up well with him.
The Gators have better all-around talent, better experience and Donovan has never lost a national semifinal. He'll be 4-0 in those games after Saturday.
Kentucky vs. Wisconsin
Anyone who was surprised how this game ended hadn't watched Kentucky's last two NCAA tournament contests.
Freshman Aaron Harrison once again nailed a late three-pointer, draining a deep shot with 5.7 seconds left to lift Kentucky to a 74-73 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday night.
Harrison, who also hit late threes to beat Louisville in the Sweet 16 and Michigan in the Elite Eight, made this shot from far beyond the NBA three-point line, only the second outside shot the Wildcats (29-10) converted all game. It came shortly after Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson made two of three free throws with 16.4 seconds to put the Badgers (30-8) up 73-72.
Jackson, who missed a jumper at the buzzer to win it, baited Harrison's brother, Andrew, into fouling him on a three-point attempt to get the foul shots. The Badgers made 19-of-20 free throws for the game, with Jackson's one miss proving very costly.
The late drama capped an amazing game from start to finish, with both teams trading leads by dominating in the ways they have all year. Kentucky was phenomenal on the boards, getting numerous second-chance opportunities to score most of its points in the paint, while Wisconsin was 8-of-20 from three-point range and got long-range baskets from five different players.
Kentucky was able to limit Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky's involvement, as the junior had just eight points after scoring 28 in the Elite Eight win over Arizona. Instead it was Ben Brust (15 points), Sam Dekker (15 points) and reserve Bronson Koenig (11 points) that paced the Badgers' offense.
For the Wildcats, James Young led all scorers with 17, while Julius Randle had 16.
Kentucky will play for its second NCAA title in three years and ninth championship all-time on Monday night when it faces Connecticut (31-8) in the title game.
For more on the Wildcats' latest thrilling win, click here.
Update by Brian J. Pedersen
No one disputes that the Wildcats are bigger and more talented than Wisconsin. But that’s not always the most important factor this time of year. The Badgers played at an incredibly high level in victories over Baylor (Sweet 16) and Arizona (Elite Eight) and should continue that trend against Kentucky, which starts five freshmen.
Still, as much as I like Wisconsin’s gritty, selfless play, I’m picking Kentucky.
Lackluster for most of the season, the Harrison twins have elevated their play, turning a good team into a great one. Kentucky has already defeated three teams (Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan) just as good or better than Wisconsin. And even without Willie Cauley-Stein, who John Calipari doubts will play (via Kyle Tucker of USA Today), Kentucky has enough depth to keep fresh bodies on Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky.
Calipari’s squad will continue its winning ways and advance to the NCAA title game against Florida.
In many ways, Wisconsin and Michigan are extremely similar. Both play at a deliberate tempo on offense, have very efficient offenses, rarely turn the ball over and rank in the top two in the country in fewest fouls committed per game.
So we should expect a similar result in Kentucky beating another B1G team, right?
Not so fast. One thing Wisconsin has that Michigan doesn't is Kaminsky. He will prove to be a matchup nightmare for a Kentucky team that hasn't had to deal with a 7'0" player with three-point range since earlier regular-season losses to Baylor (Isaiah Austin) and Michigan State (Adreian Payne).
When asked about Kaminsky, Kentucky coach John Calipari responded, “Oooh. … tough matchup for us,” via The Associated Press' Gary B. Graves.
Furthermore, Kentucky grabbed 63 percent of possible offensive rebounds against Michigan and shot 63.6 percent from three-point range. Despite those outrageous numbers, the Wildcats still needed a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left to advance.
As long as Wisconsin can keep Kentucky off the free-throw line—the Wildcats attempted just 11 freebies against Michigan as compared to a season average of 30.1 per game—the Badgers will play good enough defense and prevent enough offensive rebounds to advance to the national title game.
If Wisconsin wins on Saturday, Frank Kaminsky will have had another dominant game. Dakari Johnson will have a hard time matching up with Kaminsky, especially when he floats out to the perimeter.
But even if Kaminsky wins the battle of the centers, I like the 'Cats at every other position on the floor. Julius Randle dominates the paint, the Harrison twins continue to play with poise and Kentucky wins yet another close game, moving on to face Florida for a fourth time in Monday's championship game.
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