Opposites attract in the NCAA tournament.
Florida was the favorite coming into the bracket after not losing since December and dropping two games overall. Connecticut was a sound team and the last squad to upend the Gators, but a No. 7 seed was about right for a team that was expected to be well out of the running by this point.
The same is true on the opposite side of the Final Four as pro-ready Kentucky takes on a Wisconsin team littered with lesser-known recruits, but it is the clash between the Gators and Huskies that promises to have some of the best individual performances of the tournament.
Here is a look at stat projections for the top player from each side, with advice for bettors further down.
- Download the Printable Bracket
- Follow the Latest Bracket Updates Live
- Play the Free Bracket Challenge
Shabazz Napier, UConn
The lofty praise continues to roll in for Shabazz Napier, the man who has carried the Huskies to this point and downed the Gators on his own back in December via 26 points and the game-winning shot.
CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb is one of many who have sang Napier's praises in the week leading up to the games in Dallas:
Been telling people all year,Shabazz Napier is a complete package at point guard-leads,passes,never rushed,defends,gets Buckets #UConn— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) April 3, 2014
It's more than warranted. Napier has easily been the best player in the tournament, as one can glean from his averages of 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals. NBA.com's Adam Zagoria points out how staggering his production has been overall:
Shabazz Napier accounts for 45 percent of UConn's offense in the NCAAS on scoring and assists, per @milessimon— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 2, 2014
Florida simply does not have a defender who can stop Napier, although the propensity for him to simply have a bad game is something that could doom UConn. There's nothing to suggest that will happen given his recent tear and the fact Scottie Wilbekin and the Gators couldn't stop him last time around, so expect another major stat line for Napier—win or lose.
Prediction: 29 points, four rebounds, one steal.
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Unlike the Huskies, it is much more difficult to pick a standout player for the Gators. Casey Prather needs to have a big game for his team to win, and Patric Young needs to control the paint.
But above all else, Scottie Wilbekin has to continue his tournament hot streak and double as the thorn in Napier's side. The latter part is something Wilbekin is well aware of and explained why the assignment is so difficult:
Scottie Wilbekin says 'the different weapons Napier has on offense are what makes him hard to guard.'— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 3, 2014
On the offensive side of the court, Wilbekin has to continue to act as a facilitator and score in bunches, as he did against Pittsburgh and Dayton with 21 and 23 points, respectively.
Those are a bit high considering Wilbekin averaged 13.4 points per game in the regular season, and he scored 15 in the aforementioned loss to Connecticut, but another outburst is certainly a possibility and would likely give the Gators another advantage the Huskies cannot match.
Prediction: 17 points, three rebounds, four assists
According to Vegas Insider, the Gators are 6.5-point favorites. In a tournament that has been wildly unpredictable, this actually happens to be one of the easiest spreads to deal with for savvy bettors.
Simply put, the spread is entirely too large. Forget UConn already has a win over Florida and just look at the matchups. Napier and Ryan Boatright are outstanding defensively, and the Huskies also tout twin towers with Phillip Nolan (6'10") and Amida Brimah (7'0").
The Gators are a bit turnover prone, so this is a concern. So is the history, as illustrated by ESPN Stats and Info:
Good news for UConn, which plays Florida. Last 4 teams to beat a team in the reg. season and then meet in Final Four all won the rematch.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 31, 2014
The smart play is still on the Gators outright. They've won 30 in a row, Billy Donovan is a legendary coach and overall they outclass the Huskies from a pure talent standpoint. But as far as the spread goes, this one is going to be much closer than Vegas deems.
Prediction: Florida 64, UConn 60