NCAA Tournament 2014: Picks and Updated Odds Ahead of Final Four Schedule

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NCAA Tournament 2014: Picks and Updated Odds Ahead of Final Four Schedule
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Three of the four teams in this year's Final Four field have combined to win five of the last 10 national championships. 

Connecticut, Florida and Kentucky have each won a title within the past seven years, and they will be looking to add another in North Texas. 

The journey continues on Saturday with a pair of tantalizing national semifinal showdowns inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. With tipoff not far away, let's get you ready with last-minute picks, odds and a breakdown of stars to watch. 

 

All Your Bracket Essentials

2014 Final Four Schedule
Date Matchup Time (ET) TV Live Stream
Sat, April 5 No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 1 Florida (-6) 6:09 p.m. TBS March Madness Live
Sat, April 5 No. 8 Kentucky (-1.5) vs. No. 2 Wisconsin 8:49 p.m. TBS March Madness Live

Spread info according to Covers.com

2014 National Championship Odds
(Seed) Team Odds
(1) Florida 1-1
(8) Kentucky 5-2
(2) Wisconsin 7-2
(7) Connecticut 8-1

Source: VegasInsider.com

2014 Final Four Picks
Winner Score Loser
(1) Florida 65-58 (7) Connecticut
(8) Kentucky 72-66 (2) Wisconsin

Patrick Clarke

 

Stars to Watch

Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut

Senior point guard Shabazz Napier has put the Huskies on his back this spring, averaging 23.3 points and 4.5 assists through four NCAA tournament games. 

But the 6'1" superstar will have his hands full against gifted counterpart Scottie Wilbekin of Florida.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Still, Napier will more than likely find a way to score 20-plus points on Saturday night. He poured in 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting in the Huskies' last-minute 65-64 win over the Gators back on Dec. 2, including a clutch game-winning jumper.

Coming into the weekend, Florida head coach Billy Donovan talked about the difficulties that Napier presents on offense, per The New York Times' Zach Schonbrun: "Kevin [Ollie] really puts him in some very, very unique situations that he can do the things that he does. He can beat you with drives, he can beat you with shots, he can beat you behind the line, and he can also beat you passing the ball."

Connecticut was the last team to down Florida, so it goes without saying that Saturday's Final Four rematch will be must-see television. 

 

Scottie Wilbekin, G, Florida

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The man who will be assigned the difficult task of slowing Napier this weekend will be Wilbekin, who missed the waning moments of Florida's heartbreaking loss at Connecticut on Dec. 2 while sitting out with a sprained ankle

For all the praise that his timely scoring receives, it's his defensive prowess on the perimeter that often propels Florida to success. 

Wilbekin averaged 1.6 steals per game in 2013-14 and has six total over his last three tournament games. On offense, he is always under control, knowing when to look for his shot and when to get the ball to the hot hand.

And as ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter points out, he's been remarkably efficient in the Big Dance:

Be sure to keep an eye out for the SEC player of the year on Saturday, as his play will be pivotal in determining whether the Gators march on. 

 

Frank Kaminsky, F, Wisconsin

Harry How/Getty Images

In Saturday's second semifinal, you'll want to watch for Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky, who has made tremendous strides this season and has been a force on both ends of the floor for the Badgers.

The 7-foot junior posted 28 points and 11 rebounds in Wisconsin's Elite Eight win over Arizona last weekend and has scored 19 or more points in each of the Badgers' past three tournament games. However, he is set to face his toughest test yet against Kentucky.

Harry How/Getty Images

Although the Wildcats are likely to be without sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, who is out nursing an ankle injury, John Calipari's squad features a handful of talented big men, led by NBA prospect Julius Randle.

Just like he did against Arizona, Kaminsky will need to be effective from the perimeter in order to draw Kentucky's bigs away from the basket where they're most comfortable and open cutting and passing lanes for Wisconsin's guards. 

Kaminsky went 3-of-5 from beyond the arc against Arizona and will need a similar performance this weekend if the Badgers are going to survive and advance. 

 

Julius Randle, F, Kentucky 

As already mentioned, Kentucky's Randle will have a major say in whether the Wildcats' improbable tournament run continues after Saturday.

The 6'9", 250-pound freshman forward has recorded a double-double in all four of Kentucky's NCAA tournament wins, per ESPN Stats & Info, and is averaging close to 16 points and 12 rebounds per game in the Big Dance.

His physicality on the interior and nonstop motor make him a fun player to watch. On Saturday, his energy will be key for Kentucky as it will fire up his teammates. 

Randle has set the tone for Kentucky all tournament long and doesn't have to post incredible offensive numbers in order for the Wildcats to win. Although a 7-of-12 performance from the floor would have Kentucky sitting pretty, Calipari's squad is talented enough to win in other ways.

So long as Randle is crashing the glass, drawing fouls and forcing opposing players into tough shots, he'll be a Most Outstanding Player candidate when it's all over.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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