It felt like just yesterday that Dayton's win over Syracuse completely wrecked my NCAA tournament bracket. Where did all the time go?
Only one day remains until the Final Four, where Florida takes on Connecticut and Wisconsin faces off against Kentucky. Given the unpredictability of this year's tourney and the overall quality of the games in the Elite Eight, the national semifinals should give fans 80 compelling minutes of basketball.
Here's a quick preview and prediction for each of the two games.
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut
When: Saturday, April 5, at 6:09 p.m. ET
Watch: TBS for national broadcast; TNT for Florida Teamcast; TruTV for UConn Teamcast
Live Stream: March Madness Live
How much further will Shabazz Napier take UConn? Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels are no doubt talented players, but make no mistake about it: Napier, more than anybody else, makes the Huskies go. The senior guard has averaged more than 23 points in the NCAA tournament, including 25-point performances against both Michigan State and Villanova.
Many have compared him to Kemba Walker, who led the Huskies to the 2011 national title. Napier, though, is quick to stay out of the discussion, per Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News:
"I'm not really thinking of it," Napier said of the comparisons to Walker on Tuesday at Gampel Pavilion, just hours before the team boarded an NCAA-chartered plane to Texas. "Honestly, I don't watch enough TV. I don’t—I just like to answer you guys' questions. I don't take it home with me. I understand it's your guys' job to see a resemblance and I'm not going to shy away from it. If you guys believe I'm kind of like Kemba, then that's cool. I'm not going to say you're wrong. I just live with it. I'm not too worried about it."
Regardless of whether Napier is or isn't like Walker, the question remains whether UConn's one-man show can overcome the more balanced Florida Gators.
Billy Donovan's team isn't overly reliant on one star, instead leaning on the senior quartet of Will Yeguete, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin. Michael Frazier II has proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle, as his three-point shooting makes the Gators offense nearly unstoppable.
These teams have played before this season, with UConn getting a 65-64 home win on Dec. 2. Napier had 26 points, and Daniels scored 14 in support.
The chances of a repeat seem unlikely.
Florida has gone on a 30-game winning streak since then, and Donovan will have figured out what went wrong in the defeat. The Huskies also needed a buzzer-beater from Napier to prevail.
The Gators won't let him run the show the second time around. They're too good defensively.
As a team, Florida is so adept in crunch situations. The seniors ensure that the younger players don't lose their heads when the score is close late.
UConn might hang around for a while, but the Gators will keep their opponents at bay and pull away late in the game.
Prediction: Florida 71, Connecticut 63
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky
When: Saturday, April 5, at 8:49 p.m. ET
Watch: TBS for national broadcast; TNT for Kentucky Teamcast; TruTV for Wisconsin Teamcast
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Who would have thought that a team made up of McDonald's All-Americans could make the Final Four? What a Cinderella story the Kentucky Wildcats are.
Let's not forget John Calipari's team entered the season as the No. 1 team in the country, so making the semifinals of the NCAA tournament was a minimum expectation to a certain extent.
The NCAA tournament just so happened to be when the Wildcats' stable of talented freshmen brought it all together on the court. What's been the real catalyst, though, is the performance of the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew.
USA Today's Dan Wolken wrote that the Harrisons are a microcosm of Kentucky's up-and-down season:
As much as their play was scrutinized and criticized during Kentucky's first 31 games, there is no bigger reason for the Wildcats' surge into the Final Four than the emergence of the Harrison Twins as elite playmakers and clutch shooters.
Just three weeks ago, as they struggled to mesh with the rest of Kentucky's roster and make winning plays late in games, the pair from just outside Houston had come symbolize the pitfalls of building a program around freshmen. Since then, they have fueled one fist-pumping, celebratory moment after another and salvaged their reputations as top-10 recruits.
If the Harrison twins continue their great play, then the Wildcats may be able to keep this run going for one more round.
What could spell trouble, though, is the injury to Willie Cauley-Stein. USA Today's Kyle Tucker reported that the sophomore big man will be out for the Wisconsin game with an injured left ankle.
Badgers star Frank Kaminsky is a strong offensive presence in the post, and without Cauley-Stein, it will be harder for Kentucky to handle him down low.
"Oooh. ... tough matchup for us," Calipari said, per Gary B. Graves of The Associated Press. "Really skilled. ... He's going to be a handful. Wish we had Willie."
Freshman Dakari Johnson made the point that the Wildcats will have to work together to stop Kaminsky.
"We're going to have to play him as a whole team," Johnson said. "He may not be as smooth, but he's faster than he looks. We really have to do a great defensive job against him, not just individually but as a team."
Wisconsin is much better than people give it credit for. It has all the hallmarks of a Bo Ryan-coached team, but the Badgers are more than capable of holding their own in the event the pace of this game picks up.
Between Kaminsky in the paint and Wisconsin's ability to stretch the floor, Kentucky will have more than it can handle.
Prediction: Wisconsin 75, Kentucky 70
Note: All stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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