The 2014 NCAA tournament is rapidly winding down, and its penultimate stage, better known as the Final Four, is tipping off shortly on Saturday.
With just two games left until the championship, it is clear that four of the best teams in college basketball have emerged from their respective regions and are each capable of capturing a national title.
Let's take a look at the complete 2014 Final Four schedule, plus check out the updated odds, my predictions for the outcome of each game and more.
|2014 Final Four Schedule and Predictions|
|Date||National Semifinals||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream||Prediction|
|Sat, April 5||(7) Connecticut vs. (1) Florida (-6.5)||6:09 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live||Florida|
|Sat, April 5||(8) Kentucky (-1.5) vs. (2) Wisconsin||8:49 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live||Wisconsin|
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Final Four Matchup to Watch: Kentucky vs. Wisconsin
The Kentucky Wildcats and Wisconsin Badgers are set to engage in what may be remembered as the best game of this year’s Big Dance. These two teams have proved their mettle over the past four games and aren’t ready to go home just yet.
Unfortunately, one side will be eliminated by the end of Saturday night. Looking on the bright side, it should be an incredible battle that comes right down the wire. Fans are in for a treat.
Wisconsin is making its first trip to the Final Four under decorated head coach Bo Ryan, and the players want to bring him a championship as much as they want to raise a banner for personal reasons.
After his team’s victory over Arizona in the Sweet 16, forward Sam Dekker made it clear that Wisconsin is expecting to do great things this spring, per Jason King of Bleacher Report: “We’re not satisfied with where we’re at. We’re not content. We’ve got a high ceiling and we’re trying to reach it. We have more work to do.”
The Badgers will need to play their best game of the season to get past a slightly favored Kentucky squad in the Final Four. Wisconsin, the No. 2 seed, is playing its first game as an underdog in this tournament—against a No. 8 seed, surprisingly enough—and must use that as motivation to knock off the Wildcats.
UW needs to lock in from the three-point line to have a chance. While this team is traditionally known as a defensive powerhouse, it emerged as one of the best offensive units in the country in 2013-14.
Each player on the floor is capable of hitting from deep, and that sort of range has been a nightmare for opponents to deal with during March Madness. Even junior center Frank Kaminsky, a 7-footer, can step outside the arc and knock down shots—part of what makes him the Badgers’ top weapon. The big man dominated Arizona in the Sweet 16, scoring 28 points on a variety of shots from both the low post and long range.
He spoke about his team’s transformation into an offensive juggernaut after the win, as per George Schroeder of USA Today: "This is known as a defensive program that slows ball down on offense. We wanted to put a little of our brand on it. ... I think it's showing with this run we've had in the tournament."
While KenPom ranks the Badgers as the No. 4 most efficient offensive team in the country, they have struggled with defense at times. They rank a mere No. 45 in the NCAA in terms of defensive efficiency, and Kentucky may be able to take advantage of that weakness.
The Wildcats are a bit more balanced, as KenPom has them at No. 9 on offense and No. 40 on defense in the nation. They are athletic and tall, comprised mostly of top recruits and future NBA stars who looked great enough on paper to garner a No. 1 ranking in the preseason.
However, UK is also young and prone to mistakes, as it regularly plays seven freshmen and fielded the first all-freshman starting lineup to win an Elite Eight game since 1992, per ESPN Stats & Info:
That has led to some inconsistent play during the 2013-14 campaign, although it hasn’t been as much of an issue during the tournament. If Wisconsin can lock down on defense and return to its roots, there is a chance that the Kentucky players will become frustrated and commit turnovers and other errors.
That should be enough for the Badgers to capitalize on and allow them to escape with a narrow victory—advancing to the championship game with a chance to win it all.
Prediction: Wisconsin 69, Kentucky 66