With the Final Four set in the NCAA tournament, just because a team has a higher seed does not make it the favorite. The Florida Gators remain the best overall team in the tournament, and oddsmakers predict they will beat Connecticut handily. However, second-seeded Wisconsin faces Kentucky, a No. 8 seed, and the Badgers are underdogs against that bevy of talented freshmen.
Here are the matchups, schedule and odds of victory, along with a breakdown of how UConn and Wisconsin can pull off upsets at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
All Your Bracket Essentials
(Odds from Odds Shark on April 3.)
Wisconsin Keys vs. Kentucky
Perhaps if Ben Brust had a twin brother, the advantage in the backcourt would go to Wisconsin, but there is only one Brust. Kentucky boasts James Young, plus twins Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison. Aaron drained a tiebreaking three-pointer in the final seconds to oust Michigan from the Elite Eight, and he hit a big shot in the win over Louisville as well.
Wisconsin will have to rely heavily once again on Frank Kaminsky as a game-changing presence in the frontcourt. His production will be the primary factor in whether or not the Badgers advance, just as it was against Arizona in the regional final.
After Wisconsin's Elite Eight win, Arizona coach Sean Miller sang the praises on the matchup-nightmare big man, per Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports: "Frank Kaminsky is the reason Wisconsin's in the Final Four. He's a difficult matchup. Got to be one of the best offensive players who plays college basketball, for sure."
Kaminsky can step out and hit the three, and even if he's not shooting or scoring from long range, that threat and spacing help open more opportunities for Brust and other guards. However, Kaminsky's scoring won't be the only factor in the frontcourt, as the Badgers have to play well on the boards.
During the regular season, Kentucky averaged 41.3 rebounds per game, fifth in the nation, while Wisconsin average 33.2 rebounds per game, tied for 258th. While the disparity is not as wide as the rankings seem to suggest, allowing the Wildcats to control the glass would devastate Wisconsin's chances.
Kentucky has also been dependent on its backcourt players hitting long-range shots, like Young and the Harrisons, but especially Aaron Harrison. In his last seven games, he has connected on 50 percent of his 44 attempts from beyond the arc.
It is imperative for the Badgers to cool off his hot hand. If they can stay active on closeouts and push the ball to the perimeter, a poor shooting night from the Wildcats would topple the favorites.
As USA Today's Scott Gleeson noted about Wisconsin's defensive prowess, "The team’s offense doesn’t have to be firing on all cylinders to win. The Badgers weren’t at their best against the Wildcats on Saturday but still hung tough." Wisconsin allows just 63.7 points per game, 37th in the country.
Beyond a steady diet of Kaminsky down low, Wisconsin has to rely on its strong defense and rebounding to get past a deep Kentucky team short on experience but long on talent.
UConn Keys vs. Florida
Beyond the marquee matchup of UConn point guard Shabazz Napier against Scottie Wilbekin, Florida seems to have the advantage everywhere else on the floor. Allowing just 57.6 points per game, third-best in the nation, the Gators have won each of their tournament games by double-digit margins and held every opponent under 70 points.
Napier proved clutch with some late heroism to lift the Huskies 65-64 over the SEC titans back on Dec. 2, which was the last time Florida lost. He converted a four-point play to give UConn a one-point lead with 34 seconds remaining. Then he drained a buzzer-beating jump shot following an offensive rebound to claim the victory.
Most importantly, the Huskies will not be intimidated by the scope of this game or the reputation of their opponent. They not only beat Florida but also dispatched of the second- and third-seeded teams in the East Region before knocking off a potent Michigan State squad that many had tabbed to win the title.
|NCAA Tournament Schedule and Odds|
|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|
Connecticut may look potent now, but it fell twice in the span of a week to Louisville in early March and lost by 33 points in the first game. While the team has been galvanized in this tournament, and confidence is soaring after beating the Spartans, UConn lacks the weapons to win if Florida can contain Napier.
Ryan Boatright forms a solid backcourt tandem with Napier, and defenses cannot afford to forget about him. DeAndre Daniels and his 13 points per game at the forward position will be another key player, but everything is secondary after UConn's point man.
If Florida focuses all its attention on stopping Napier, Boatright and Daniels can do damage, though not enough to beat the best team in the tournament by themselves. The Huskies cannot keep pace without the player who has drawn copious comparisons to former Huskies star Kemba Walker, now the point guard for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Napier has averaged 23.25 points per game so far in the tournament, and he will have to approach that total to get past the Gators. The best hope for UConn is that Napier, Boatright and Daniels all excel and exceed 40 points between them, and that the game is close in the final minutes for more Huskies heroism.