The 2014 NCAA Final Four encompasses a quartet of exceptional men's college basketball programs, setting the stage for an epic edition of the national semifinals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
No. 1 overall seed Florida seeks to keep its bid alive for a third national title under head coach Billy Donovan in a matchup with the seventh-seed, East Region champion Connecticut Huskies. In the second game on Saturday, Kentucky will seek to advance to the national title game as an eighth seed in battling the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers.
Advancing to this stage of the tournament is a remarkable achievement given the slew of upsets and potential pitfalls along the way. These next two games and, of course, Monday's title game will identify a worthy national champion.
Here is some updated bracket information, along with the TV schedule, updated odds for each Final Four contest and predictions as to how they will unfold.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
|Saturday, April 5||Odds||Time (ET)||TV||Pick|
|No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut||Florida -6.5||6:09 p.m.||TBS||Florida|
|No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky||Kentucky -1.5||8:49 p.m.||TBS||Kentucky|
Source: CBSSports.com, VegasInsider.com
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut
The Gators are ranked No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. It seems conceivable that Florida could figure out a way to shut down UConn's Shabazz Napier, but that's easier said than done.
Even though Napier is the runaway go-to option for the Huskies, he's rarely been denied, showing uncommon poise in the clutch as UConn has run the March Madness gauntlet. ESPN Stats & Info notes how much he's meant to the Connecticut offense on his own:
Napier also hit a buzzer-beater on Dec. 2 to beat the Gators, which was their last loss. History is also against the Gators, if this stat holds true:
The Gators are the 4th team since 1979 to enter the Final Four on a 30-game win streak. None of the previous teams went on to win the title.— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) April 2, 2014
Chances are Florida won't let Napier go off again—not after its last encounter with him. One big reason for that is senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, a defensive dynamo who should be hounding Napier on the perimeter.
There also is significant depth for Florida in the frontcourt. Between seniors Patric Young and Will Yeguete, it has serious athleticism to combat the unique skill set DeAndre Daniels brings to the post for UConn.
Perhaps the big difference in this one will be the play of Gators shooting guard Michael Frazier II—a three-point specialist who has been a consistent threat all season. If Frazier can outplay Ryan Boatright on both ends of the floor, it will be a major plus for Florida.
It's reasonable to expect that to happen, given Frazier's superior quickness and offensive proficiency. After losing the previous three years in the Elite Eight, Florida won't be denied now in running away to a double-digit triumph.
Prediction: Florida 76, Connecticut 63
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky
Badgers head coach Bo Ryan has finally gotten over the Final Four hump, thanks to this year's Wisconsin team packing a bit more scoring punch than in years past. Wisconsin's hard-nosed, methodical style is still evident, yet the Badgers can run with more athletic opponents as well.
But the exception might be Kentucky, which has knocked off three of last year's four national semifinalists to bust brackets and emerge from the Midwest Region. With five freshman starters, headlined by double-double machine Julius Randle, Kentucky is morphing into what it was tabbed to be as the preseason No. 1.
ESPN analyst Jalen Rose spoke to how Randle's game could translate to any era of basketball, per NBA.com's Adam Zagoria:
"Julius Randle, that guy the way he's playing he could play in any era." Jalen Rose on the Fab 5 on ESPN.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 3, 2014
Randle is unique, but so are twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, along with fellow first-year phenom James Young. They give the Wildcats outstanding length on the perimeter, something that Wisconsin will have trouble overcoming, even with its knack for getting good spacing.
Seven-foot forward Frank Kaminsky has helped carry the Badgers to this point, but he doesn't match up well with Randle, who can wander out to the three-point arc and guard him. Plus, Randle is quick enough to take Kaminsky off the dribble and beat him in the post with crafty moves and superior strength at the rim.
John Calipari alluded to how well Marcus Lee stepped up for the Wildcats with 15 points in the Elite Eight win over Michigan, but added that his team's journey isn't finished:
I’m so happy for our team and each player. To think about Dom & Marcus stepping up to help us win, that’s what we’re all about at Kentucky.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 31, 2014
Every single guy on our team has played a part in what we’ve done this year. But we’re not done yet.— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) March 31, 2014
After falling woefully short of expectations, the Wildcats are positioned for greatness. They were told they were amazing before they even accomplished anything, and that resulted in premature anointment and a mediocre regular season.
But now Kentucky has proven itself, and won't fall short now that its supreme talent has learned to play together. This newly discovered synergy has allowed the Wildcats to survive a tough road to the Final Four, which will help the Wildcats edge Wisconsin in a close, entertaining contest.
Prediction: Kentucky 74, Wisconsin 70
Who will win the NCAA tournament?
If Florida and Kentucky get through to play for the ultimate prize, it would be a dream matchup—and a rematch of the SEC tournament final, which the Gators won 61-60. Before the season, the Wildcats were the consensus No. 1 and some handed them championship before they had proven anything. Now that they've matched their flash with substance, the Wildcats are ready to square off with the prohibitive NCAA tourney favorite.
With how well the Gators play defense and have so many individual attackers to score the ball, they are a tough match for any foe.
However, Young, Randle and the Harrisons are all capable of getting their own shot too. This matchup would likely draw the highest TV ratings. It also would be a true test of the grow-and-develop philosophy Donovan deploys—evident by his four star seniors—rubbing against Calipari's slew of probable one-and-done superstars.