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March Madness 2014: Updated Bracket and Bold Predictions for Final Four

Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (13) favors his right leg after he was hurt on a play during the second half of a third-round game against Villanova in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., Saturday, March 22, 2014. Connecticut won the game 77-65. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
Bill Wippert
Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2014

The NCAA tournament is known for thrills, upsets and the like, but things get even more intense in the Final Four—especially with traditional powerhouses such as Connecticut and Kentucky in the fray.

Those Wildcats are the 2014 tournament defined. The young bunch of highly touted recruits put on an epic run in a terribly difficult region to the surprise of nearly everyone.

Of course, UConn could qualify as a surprise as well. The Huskies are the opposite of Kentucky in that they have been carried by one player for the duration of the tournament. Shabazz Napier has put on a show for the ages.

The surprises won't stop, so don't blink.

 

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Aaron Harrison Explodes as Kentucky Rolls

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 23:  Aaron Harrison #2 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates after defeating the Wichita State Shockers 78 to 76 during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 23, 2014 in St Louis, Miss
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Sometimes a player hits on a streak that is the beginning of something great.

For Kentucky, that player is Aaron Harrison. He posted 12 points while hitting four shots from long range in the Elite Eight against Michigan, including the one to seal the deal.

Harrison hit no more than three shots from long range twice during the regular season, but he has already done it as many times in four games in the tournament. He's been the definition of consistent, and that works perfectly against Wisconsin, a team that has been downright miserable defending the perimeter.

Wisconsin is no slouch. The team is led by stretch forward Frank Kaminsky, who poses a strong matchup issue for the Wildcats. But that's the difference. One player won't get it done against Kentucky, a team that seemingly has an NBA prospect at each position.

Kaminsky can and will hurt the Wildcats both inside and out, but individual talent only goes so far against a unit as hot as Kentucky. Julius Randle can help negate Kaminsky's effectiveness down low, while Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress can pitch in on the offensive side of the court.

Led by Harrison and a host of talented supplemental players, the Wildcats will run away with the game against the overwhelmed Badgers. The methodical pace worked against the likes of Arizona, but Kentucky is another animal entirely.

 

Shabazz Napier Won't Be Enough

HARTFORD, CT - DECEMBER 18: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts following a non-call in the second half against the Stanford Cardinal during the game at XL Center on December 18, 2013 in Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/G
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Huskies are one of only two teams to down the Florida Gators this year—Billy Donovan's team has won 30 straight games—but that's only because Napier put together some late-game heroics with his buzzer-beater.

Logic says the Gators will once again have a hard time shutting down Napier. But look closer—they are sound defensively on the perimeter. In fact, Florida struggles down low more than anything, as illustrated by Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated:

The first is that the Gators do not have a bona fide post scorer. Patric Young provides rebounding and toughness (his dive to the floor to gather a loose ball, which sealed a win at Tennessee Tuesday night, should go into a time capsule), but he is not the kind of player you can throw it to in the post and tell him to score.

Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II actually do a solid job on the perimeter, which speaks to Napier's ability more than anything.

But it's erroneous to base a prediction off just one outcome. It's not as if the Huskies' victory was anywhere close to convincing. They were out-rebounded 34-26, turned the ball over 14 times and registered 18 personal fouls.

Florida is a different team this time around. Odds are the Gators won't miss six free throws again or turn the ball over 16 times. Napier will get his in a big way, but he doesn't have any other true threats to complement his productivity.

Meanwhile, Florida can clog the lane with Patric Young while Wilbekin continues his hot streak and fends off Napier. 

Napier is the tournament's best player by a long shot, but at some point, team effort usurps a star player. That time has arrived for UConn.

 

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