Final Four Preview: Connecticut vs. Florida, Kentucky vs. Wisconsin
Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Kentucky are getting set to play in the Final Four on Saturday in Dallas.
In the first match-up, No. 1 overall seed and Midwest Region winner Florida plays No. 7 seed and South Region winner Connecticut. The last time these two teams met was on December 2nd, and it was the Gators last loss before rattling off 30 straight wins to get to Final Four. Three of their top players are seniors, Scottie Wilbekin (16.8 points per game, four assists per game in the NCAA tournament), Patric Young (8.3 PPG, and 6.8 rebounds per game), and Casey Prather (9.5 PPG), along with sophomores Dorian Finney-Smith (8.8 PPG, and 6.5 RPG), and Michael Frazier II (10.5 PPG). Wilbekin is the leader on the court, while Young and Finney-Smith are dominant down low, and Prather and Frazier II can shoot from anywhere on the court.
To reach the Final Four, the Gators defeated Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA, and Dayton in their fourth straight Elite Eight. Offense isn't the Florida's specialty, as they average 71.0 points a game, (181st in NCAA), and shoot 46.% from the field (74th in NCAA), but on the defensive side of the ball, the Gators flourish, allowing opponents to 57.6% points a game (third in NCAA).
For Connecticut, the Huskies flew under the radar to get to Dallas. In Kevin Ollie's second season as head coach, he guided his team to wins over St. Joseph's, Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State to win the South Region. Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels are a dynamic duo scoring for Connecticut. Napier is averaging 23.2 in four tournament games, while Daniels is averaging 17 points and seven boards in the tournament.
Like Florida, Connecticut's defense is their strength, allowing opponents to 63.7 points per game (38th in the NCAA). On offense, the Huskies score 71.9 points a game (144th in the NCAA).
**Prediction: Florida 67, Connecticut 63**
On the opposite side of the bracket, West Region winner No. 2 seed Wisconsin plays Midwest Region winner No. 8 seed Kentucky.
The Badgers are the only other team to beat Florida this year, and play a resurgent Kentucky team that was the No. 1 preseason team in the country. This is Bo Ryan's first year in the Final Four, and is led by big Frank "the Tank" Kaminsky, after his monster Elite Eight performance (28 points, and 11 rebounds, while shooting 11-of-20 from field, and three of five from deep), in the Badgers win over Arizona. Kaminsky can score in paint, and from the outside. As a team, Wisconsin has been deadly from deep, shooting 37% from long range in the NCAA tournament. Sam Dekker, Ben Brust, and Traevon Jackson all can ease the pressure off Kaminsky.
Wisconsin, though, is similar to Florida, and Connecticut because they play great defense, too. The Badgers allow opponents to 63.7 points per game (37th in NCAA). Offensively, Wisconsin scores 73.5 points a game (92nd in the NCAA).
The Badgers will have their hands full with the Wildcats in Saturday's semifinals. Kentucky knocked off four of the Midwest Region's best teams (Wichita State 78-76, Louisville 74-69, and Michigan 75-72). All were thrilling games, and went down to the wire. The Wildcats freshman finally became men in the NCAA tournament, and showed why many picked them in the preseason to win it all. John Calipari has managed to get freshman Julius Randle (15.3 PPG, and 12 RPG in NCAA tournament), Aaron Harrison (16 PPG, and game-winning three-pointer) and Andrew Harrison (12.3 PPG), James Young (10.5 PPG), Dakari Johnson (15 and eight points in last two games) and Marcus Lee (10 points and eight rebounds against Michigan) all to finding their true potential.
Kentucky's x-factor may be their edge on the glass, as they grabbed 35 total rebounds and 17 offensive rebounds against Michigan. Randle has recorded 24 double-doubles for the Wildcats this season. Kentucky scores 76.4 points a game (46th in NCAA), and allows 66.6 points a game (82nd in the NCAA).
**Prediction: Kentucky 74, Wisconsin 69**
For comments or story ideas, email Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @samtastad for updates on the Final Four as he will be in Dallas.