The 2014 NCAA tournament was expected to feature some chaos since there were no truly dominant teams in the field. A return to March Madness was exactly what college basketball fans around the country witnessed over the past couple of weeks.
Now it's time for the Final Four. Saturday's games feature a pair of teams that were popular selections in Florida and Wisconsin as well as a couple of lower seeds that found their stride at the right time in Connecticut and Kentucky to create a very intriguing group.
The only hope now, at least among neutral fans, is that the final three games live up to the standard that was set by the rest of the tournament. Let's check out updated bracket information and the semifinal schedule before making predictions for both games.
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Final Four Schedule
|April 5||(7) Connecticut vs. (1) Florida||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|April 5||(8) Kentucky vs. (2) Wisconsin||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
Connecticut vs. Florida
The four teams that Connecticut knocked off to reach this point had the same understanding. If they could slow down Shabazz Napier, they had a very good chance to advance. So far, no opponent has succeeding in doing that.
UConn doesn't feature a ton of depth at the offensive end. The opposition's main focus is always to contain the talented senior point guard, and everything else should fall into line. But he's averaging more than 23 points per game to lead the Huskies' charge and showcase the power of a go-to star come tournament time.
Florida head coach Billy Donovan is impressed with what Napier has done. Ryan Wilson of NBC Connecticut passed along comments from the longtime leader of the Gators, who praised the point guard's high basketball IQ: "He's really smart, knows when to go, when to pass. I think he understands the length and time of a game. He's played a lot of minutes over his career, he's been in big events and big venues."
Florida, like all of those other teams, knows that preventing Napier from completely taking over the game is essential to success. The difference is the Gators have the tools to make it happen.
Which team will reach the final?
They rank first in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. That collective effort is going to force Napier into a lot of tough shots. He'll have to take contested jumpers or deal with effective size protecting the paint, led by Patric Young.
On the offensive end, the Gators have four different players who are averaging double-digit points for the season. Scottie Wilbekin in particular has really elevated his play over the last three rounds. Those offensive weapons paired with an elite defense should push the top overall seed into the final.
Prediction: Florida 68, Connecticut 63
Kentucky vs. Wisconsin
Based purely on talent, it's not a major surprise to see Kentucky in the Final Four. The Wildcats always possessed enough talent to make some serious noise in the Big Dance, but it just appeared the freshman-laden squad wasn't going to peak in time.
The shock factor in terms of them reaching this point comes from the road they traveled. They knocked off a solid Kansas State squad, previously unbeaten Wichita State, defending champion Louisville and an outstanding offensive side in Michigan.
That's why Kentucky is the public favorite heading into the game despite being an eighth seed. SportsCenter provided polling results for the Final Four, which show the Wildcats as a slight choice over Wisconsin to cut down the nets:
The votes are in. SC fans believe Florida will be cutting down the nets. 1. Florida 34% 2. Kentucky 26% 3. Wisconsin 23% 4. UConn 17%— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 4, 2014
The one thing that's set Wisconsin apart so far and allowed it to win the West Region is its efficiency on the offensive end. Frank Kaminsky and Co. are terrific when they get into their half-court sets and slow the game down to the point where execution becomes key.
Which team will reach the final?
Willie Cauley-Stein is doubtful for Kentucky due to an ankle injury. If he misses the game as expected, it would be a boost to Wisconsin's chances because the absence of the shot-blocker would open up a lot more space down low.
That said, the way the Wildcats have played to reach this point is the deciding factor in what should be a very close game. They have gone up against a trio of teams that were viewed as title threats and beat them all in narrow contests, answering a lot of questions in the process. They are ready for the challenge.
Prediction: Kentucky 72, Wisconsin 70