The theme for this year's Final Four is late bloomers versus prodigy. The Kentucky Wildcats represent college basketball's next wave. The Florida Gators would beg to disagree no matter how much you choose to ignore them. When I named my All-Late Bloomers Team back in January, Florida's Casey Prather was the captain. Kentucky's roster bloomed late in the regular season, but that's only if you assume they should have been playing this way from the jump. In actuality, they've progressed at a normal rate for freshman and have adjusted to the college game. They were cast aside while the nation swooned over Arizona's athleticism and Syracuse's zone, but Florida never wavered or lost.
Alligators are notoriously stealthy creatures, but with a few more wins the nation will no longer be able ignore their methodical attack.
7 UCONN vs. 1 FLORIDA
After eliminating President Obama's national championship bracket pick, Michigan State, the official twitter page for UConn athletics poked the president with a tweet reminding him that there was room left on their bandwagon. Unfortunately, they missed the opportunity to incorporate his '08 campaign motto for an extra Oomph! factor.
Nevertheless, the last time UConn and Florida met, Napier hit a game-winning buzzer-beater off of a tipped offensive rebound. If it hadn't been for Napier's shot, UF would be on a 36-game winning streak.
Wilbekin turned his ankle in the final three minutes of that back and forth clash and freshman Kasey Hill wasn’t in the lineup to replace him. Both will be on the floor against UConn in the Final Four. UConn is currently on the run of their lifetimes, but the Florida Gators are having an entire season of a lifetime. Their win streak has reach 30 games thanks to their six-man defense. Or at least that’s how it feels to opposing defenses.
UConn is no slouch defensively either as they rank seventh nationally in two point field goal percentage defense. The Gators defense is susceptible to the three, which is UConn’s strength offensively. In their Dec. 2 matchup, UConn drained 11 treys.
UConn’s probably a bit more potent on the offensive end, but is still top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency. All tournament I’ve worried about a moment where Florida’s absence of a go-to scorer would end up hindering them.
Shabazz Napier has accounted for 45 percent of UConn’s points leading up to the Final Four, but they have the opposite problem. They’re 50th in adjusted deficiency, well behind Florida (18th), Wisconsin (4th)and Kentucky (9th) for one reason. Every tip-off for the Huskies presents a mystery as to which teammate will provide the big assist on the box score until Napier can take control in crunch time.
Niels Giffey is one of the nation’s best three point shooters, but against Michigan State it looked like his sightline was the nosebleeds in the AT&T Center. If he channels Luke Hancock's outside shooting from last year's Final Four UConn advances.
Where's your seat? Kidding. But what a photo! pic.twitter.com/4Oi4sJXtCU— Final Four (@FinalFour) April 1, 2014
WISCONSIN vs. KENTUCKY
Wisconsin has essentially been written off now that Kentucky’s achieved its manifest destiny and arrived in Arlington for the Final Four.
Wisconsin has won games scoring in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s. Wisconsin has been the definition of stability under Bo Ryan having reached the Final Four in 13 of 13 seasons. If Bo ran for the Senate against Paul Ryan, Bo would win in a landslide. That's how much he's adored there after winning four DIvision III national championships at Wisconsis-Plateville, before spending two years at Milwaukee before taking the helm of the Badgers.
John Calipari has more new kids every year than Octomom. Wisconsin’s production is consistent, but on any given night, a new Kentucky freshman could rise up. Calipari has embraced his role as the McDonalds All-American Pied Piper, but he entered this year with more new kids than Octomom. Nineof them to be exact.
Zach Bohannon’s Instagram page is becoming the star of the Final Four, however Frank “The Tank” Kaminski’s evolution as a player is what got them here. The Wisconsin 7-footer is a versatile scorer, but he can’t matchup with the smaller, thicker Randle or Marcus Lee or Dakari Johnson on the boards.
Kentucky’s 34-49 turnover to assist ratio is on par with their regular season total, but the difference has been their execution in “clutch time”, the five minute period at the end of regulation with the score within five points. In these situations they've outscored opponents Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan by 11 in the NCAA Tournament. More importantly, they've only committed one turnover in that time.
Wisconsin has to stay hot from outside to beat a revitalized Kentucky team. Fortunately, they’re one of the nation’s top three-point shooting teams. Freshman are incredibly erratic, while Wisconsin has been maddeningly consistent and beaten seven conference champions including Florida during the regular season.
Rollie Massimino’s eight seeded Villanova Wildcats were never given the benefit of the doubt in 1985 that this Kentucky team has been given now that they’ve reached the Final Four. Vegas has the Wildcats favored by two. Chaos has reigned supreme in the Tournament. So has experience. I’m taking Wisconsin to pull off the win.