In most cases, surprises in the Final Four lead to a worse product for fans. That will not be the situation in this year's national semifinals.
No. 7 Connecticut and No. 8 Kentucky won their regions with fantastic overall play on both ends of the court. Each team has NBA-level talent, which is much different than the Cinderella stories we have seen in past years.
As a result, No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Wisconsin will have their hands full in the next round. Amazingly, Kentucky is even slightly favored over the Badgers in Saturday's game, according to Vegas Insider.
All four squads have their strengths and weaknesses, but only two of them will survive and advance to the national finals on Monday, April 7. Here is a look at what to expect in each game in the 2014 Final Four.
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|April 5||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|April 5||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut
If you are looking for great individual battles, it does not get much better than Shabazz Napier against Scottie Wilbekin at point guard. Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel agrees, saying, "Napier vs. Wilbekin could be one of the matchups of the season."
Napier put up better numbers over the course of the season, but both players have similar traits. They both contribute at a high level on offense and defense and are two of the most clutch shooters in college basketball.
However, the difference in this game will be what the rest of the players on the floor can do.
Connecticut has gotten a lot of production in this tournament from secondary players DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey, but they will have a harder time against a tough Florida defense. Dorian Finney-Smith will especially be useful as someone with the athleticism and length to handle Daniels.
On the other hand, the Gators are so deep that three ESPN analysts could not agree on which person would be conference player of the year:
SEC Conference POY: Digger - Patric Young Jalen - Casey Prather Bilas - Scottie Wilbekin— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 1, 2014
You can expect Casey Prather to have a strong game after some mediocre performances in this tournament, and Patric Young should provide balance up front. Additionally, Michael Frazier II has the ability to get hot from the outside.
This will be a low-scoring battle throughout, but Florida simply has more talent to get baskets when needed. Wilbekin will then be trusted late to ensure the Gators get into the national championship game.
Prediction: Florida 64, Connecticut 56
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky
Despite the seeding, it is almost more surprising to see Wisconsin reach this point than Kentucky.
The No. 8 Wildcats had an up-and-down season but still entered the year as the No. 1 team in the country with arguably the greatest recruiting class ever assembled.
On the other hand, Wisconsin does not seem like a team that should win games at this level. Even center Frank Kaminsky admitted as much, via Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com:
Sometimes, we kind of fail that eye test. But it doesn't matter when the game starts. It matters how we play. … People can say we look like this and we look like that -- we look like a bunch of white guys -- but it doesn't matter at the end of the day.
Wisconsin succeeds by being the best in the country in key areas. The Badgers lead the nation with only 8.1 turnovers per game, and the players find a way to get open shots with precise, unselfish passing.
Additionally, Kaminsky has been a matchup nightmare, averaging 22 points over the past three games while making shots all over the floor.
The problem is Kentucky has been playing just as well to get to the Final Four. With James Young and Aaron Harrison making shots on the outside, the squad is finally getting offensive balance to go with Julius Randle in the middle.
If Willie Cauley-Stein is healthy enough to play—which seems like a possibility—the Wildcats will be even better defensively with great length at every position.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said it best, via Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv:
"If (Kentucky) plays well they can beat anybody in the country," Jim Boeheim on ESPN.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 4, 2014
Kentucky is finally living up to its potential, and it should keep going with a win in this matchup.
Prediction: Kentucky 71, Wisconsin 70
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