You cannot play the Final Four on paper, but it is possible to project the conditions under which each team wins on Saturday. Based on each team's strengths and weaknesses, here are four if-then scenarios for Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky to advance to the national title game.
All Your Bracket Essentials
|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 Odds Shark on April 3.)
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut
Florida wins if...the Gators stay hungry
Before this tournament, Florida had lost in the Elite Eight in each of the past three years. That was certainly on the minds of the players as well as coach Billy Donovan. Donovan won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, but that was the last time his team made the Final Four before now.
The Gators got past that Elite Eight hurdle, but it only required beating the plucky Dayton Flyers, a No. 11 seed. Now, they will face a much tougher test, and there is no room for a letdown.
Florida has the pressure of being the top overall seed and the favorite to win the tournament. UConn will be playing loose, as its four wins have already exceeded expectations. Florida has not been tested late in games in the tournament yet, winning each contest by double digits, so if the Huskies hang around, it will spell trouble.
Essentially, the Gators just need to take care of business like they've done in every game since losing to UConn back on Dec. 2. Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier have led the way, but Florida would love to see Casey Prather step up his game in April. Despite an average of 13.8 points per game, he put in just six points in the win over Dayton.
All Florida has to do is continue being Florida, but that could be difficult with the top candidate for Most Outstanding Player up next.
UConn wins if...Shabazz Napier continues to be the best player in the tournament
Shabazz Napier is the A-to-Z of the NCAA tournament. He has clearly been the best player on any team, and greatness like that can guide an underdog to the title game. Napier's stellar play has evoked comparisons to his teammate Kemba Walker from the 2011 title season. Their respective games are distinct, but the results could be similar if Napier keeps it up.
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
Through four tournament wins, Napier has averaged just over 23 points per game. He made the game-winner at the buzzer to top Florida early in the season, and he nailed a crucial late jump shot to ice the game against Michigan State.
If Napier goes for at least 20 points and backcourt partner Ryan Boatright can support him with double-digit scoring, Florida will be toast.
Also, don't nap on UConn's defense. The Huskies held opponents to 63.7 points per game (38th in the nation) while blocking 6.2 shots (eighth) and pilfering 7.0 steals per game (80th). They are active and disruptive, and they held Michigan State to just 54 points in the Elite Eight win.
The Gators had early hiccups in their opening game against Albany, and the No. 11 Flyers gave them some trouble in the Elite Eight. UConn proved it can beat Florida in December, and repeating the feat would continue this stunning run.
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. Kentucky
Wisconsin wins if...Frank Kaminsky scores 20 points
Kaminsky victimized an excellent defense in Arizona for 28 points and 11 rebounds in Wisconsin's Elite Eight win. He stands at 7'0", but he can also step out and hit a three-pointer, as he did three times against Arizona. He's got too much range to be guarded by most centers and too much size for most forwards. Matching up against him is like a Freddy Krueger creation for most defenders.
It has been a precipitous rise for Kaminsky. He's making an impact for the first time in his junior year after averaging 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game last season. In 2013-14, he has been domineering with 14.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 27 minutes per game.
Against Arizona, he was the core of the game plan, and he had a knife and fork handy as his teammates kept feeding him the ball for 20 field-goal attempts.
But Kaminsky can also be a facilitator on offense by creating opportunities for his teammates. Wisconsin downed Baylor by 17 in the Sweet 16, and Kaminsky turned in 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and six blocks.
After the game, Kaminsky described the success of the offense, per Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports: "They left the middle of the zone open a little bit and we were able to get the ball in there and get some easy baskets to the rim, some easy kick-outs for threes. So, you know, we just kind of hammered it into the middle and made some things happen."
That's what Kaminsky does. He makes things happen.
If he scores at least 20 points, he will also become a sufficient distraction in the process, which will open things up for guard Ben Brust and others. Also, 7-footer Dakari Johnson is the only player on Kentucky taller than 6'9", though there are a ton of talented forwards behind him. Foul trouble on Johnson would spell doom.
Kentucky wins if...the three-pointers keep falling
Though they were dinged for 10 losses during the season, the Wildcats are playing their best basketball over the last month. With nine freshmen on the roster, the midseason struggles steeled them for tough competition in early April.
Kentucky is 1st team in NCAA Tournament history to eliminate the previous year's champion and runner-up— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 3, 2014
Julius Randle has powered the team, but the difference has often been the backcourt shooting from twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison as well as James Young.
No three-pointer of Kentucky's season was bigger than Aaron's tie-breaking game-winner with just a couple of seconds remaining against Michigan, his fourth trey of the game.
This has become a trend over Kentucky's tournament wins. Aaron Harrison has led the team in triples in all four games and drained 13 of his 24 attempts from behind the arc. In the last three games, the Wildcats shot 45.7 percent as a team from three-point range (21 of 46).
Randle will get his double-double stats. With 24 already on the season, that's practically a given.
However, if the three-pointers stop falling and Kentucky is forced to contend with Wisconsin's Big Ten-tested defense, it will be curtains for the Wildcats.
|(Seed) Team Name||Odds|
(Odds from Vegas Insider on April 3.)