The 2014 Final Four is a motley crew comprised of two unique matchups. The first of Saturday's games sees top-seeded Florida take on a surprising No. 7 seed, which handed the Gators their last loss over four months ago. The other game sees 10-loss Kentucky favored against a second-seeded team representing the Big Ten, college basketball's best conference.
Vegas has weighed in with the bookmakers' prediction, and here are the spreads for Saturday's clashes, along with each team's odds of winning the tournament and a complete breakdown of both games.
All Your Bracket Essentials
|Remaining NCAA Tournament Schedule|
|Saturday, April 5||(1) Florida vs. (7) Connecticut||6:09 p.m.||TBS||Florida -6.5|
|Saturday, April 5||(2) Wisconsin vs. (8) Kentucky||8:49 p.m.||TBS||Kentucky -1.5|
|Monday, April 7||National Championship||9:10 p.m.||CBS|
(Odds from Vegas Insider on April 3.)
Florida vs. UConn
Florida finished the regular season atop the polls and justifiably earned the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Now that the Gators have reached the Final Four, they would seem to be sure-fire bets for the championship game, especially coming up against seventh-seeded Connecticut, only the second No. 7 to ever reach the Final Four.
|Updated Odds for Winning the NCAA Tournament|
|(Seed) Team Name||Odds|
Florida's Scottie Wilbekin will face off against Connecticut's Shabazz Napier in what could be a showdown to decide Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, and the sensational point guards will be the matchup to watch throughout the game.
Wilbekin showed no mercy to the Dayton Flyers in their Elite Eight showdown. With Florida already leading 35-24 in the closing seconds of the first half, Wilbekin stared down his defender and launched a straight-on three-pointer from several feet behind the arc. He nailed it, and the Gators' 14-point lead at the break felt all but insurmountable.
Florida is a juggernaut this season and justifiably earned the best odds to claim the title. However, Connecticut has the defense to keep pace, having given up just 63.7 points per game, 38th in the nation.
With just two losses on the entire season, the last time the Gators failed to come away with a win was on Dec. 2 against UConn. (Florida's other loss this season came back on Nov. 12 to another Final Four team in Wisconsin.)
The Gators have scorers to be sure, but defense is what typically propels them to victory. They allow just 57.6 points per game, third in the nation, and average 7.2 steals per game, ranking 61st. They have rolled over the four opponents on the bracket so far, winning by double figures in each game and yielding just 55 points on average.
The Huskies knocked off MSU behind 25 points from Napier, but while DeAndre Daniels added 12 points and Ryan Boatright turned in 11, the Huskies were weak on offense. They shot just 34.7 percent from the field and missed 17 of their 22 three-point attempts.
The two keys to victory were the 16 turnovers they forced from Michigan State and the stellar foul shooting that resulted in just one miss through 22 attempts. The Spartans attempted only eight free throws in the six-point loss. Florida is a more similar team to UConn, only with more talent.
The Huskies are more than capable of beating Florida for a second time this season, but everything has to break in their favor. Against a stout Gators D, UConn will run out of steam as Napier will be unable to sustain his average of 23.3 points per game against one of the stingiest defenses in the nation.
Prediction: Florida 69, UConn 62
Wisconsin vs. Kentucky
The Wisconsin Badgers won their first three games of the tournament by a total of 65 points, owing mostly to a 40-point drubbing of American University, but the Elite Eight proved the measure of this team with a gritty one-point victory over first-seeded Arizona.
Defense was the key for the Badgers throughout the year, and the 63.7 points per game they allow ranks 37th in the country. After getting by Arizona, they will look to knock off another set of Wildcats when they clash with Kentucky.
Wisconsin had shown its toughness by fighting through conference play in the the Big Ten. The regular season saw wins not only over Florida and Michigan State but also over Michigan and twice over Iowa.
Kentucky, on the other hand, entered the season with possibly the most talented recruiting class in the history of college basketball. After compiling a season with 10 losses, the disappointing Wildcats received the No. 8 seed, which proved to be a fortuitous slot.
They dispatched of unbeaten Wichita State, the top seed in the region, before knocking off No. 2 Michigan in the Elite Eight on Aaron Harrison's late tie-breaking three-pointer. Despite a low seed in the tournament, Kentucky looks like a band of world-beaters now, and it is not surprising to see it favored over Wisconsin.
Freshman forward Julius Randle, who recorded a double-double in each of his first four tournament games, spoke to reporters after the win over Michigan about how his team persevered during a tumultuous season, per The New York Times' Joanne C. Gerstner: "We just stayed the course. We just never really let the criticism or whatever waver us. And we just kept listening to Coach, and developed as the season went on. We’ve just got a tough group of guys."
So they entered the year dripping with talent, and they look set to close the year dripping with toughness as a team. That's terrible news for Wisconsin.
Rebounding will be the key to the game, and Kentucky has the clear edge. The Wildcats rank fifth overall in rebounds at 41.3 per game, while Wisconsin ranks 261st at 33.2 per game. They have more athleticism and raw talent than the Badgers, so they will hold down Frank Kaminsky and Co. to reach the title game.
Prediction: Kentucky 72, Wisconsin 67