And then there were four…
The first two weekends of the NCAA tournament failed to disappoint once again. Bracket busters, buzzer beaters and a record amount of overtime games highlighted the first four rounds of the madness.
But now it is April. The final four teams are set and only one team can come out on top. To assess how they made it this far, let us take a look at each team’s March.
One fact sticks out above all the others when you look at the Gators’ matchup with UConn in the Final Four. Florida has not lost a game since Dec. 2 when they lost at the buzzer to the very team they will be playing on Saturday, to the tune of a 30-game win streak. In fact, the only two games that the Gators have lost all season were against teams who made the Final Four, the other team being Wisconsin.
However, these losses came within the first eight games of the season and neither were played at the Gators’ home, losing both games by a combined seven points. The Gators’ average margin of victory thus far in the tournament is 12.25 points as they breezed through the likes of Albany, Pitt, UCLA and Dayton. Obviously not as tough as opponents as the other Final Four teams, so what we will have to see is if the Gators will be fresh or ill prepared for the Huskies.
Although, head coach Billy Donovan knows a thing or two about Final Four success, as his last two April appearances resulted in back-to-back NCAA championships.
Probably the most unlikely of the Final Four teams, the Huskies have made it to April for the first time since winning the title in 2011. The comparisons between this year’s team and 2011’s team are remarkably similar. Both teams were led by a senior point guard (Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier) who comes up in the clutch and hit their peak in late March. This year’s team, however, has not been granted with a three-seed like the 2011 team and therefore has faced much more formidable opponents.
After squeezing by Saint Joe’s in their first game of the tournament, the Huskies have beaten a two, three and four seed (Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State) respectively. Despite the rough road to reach North Texas, UConn is still finding ways to win and also has history on its side. The last four teams to beat a team in the regular season and then meet in the Final Four have all won the rematch (ESPN Stats & Info).
The only team in the country to have started the same five players all season is Bo Ryan’s club. This year is the furthest that Ryan has taken the Badgers in his tenure and shows no sign of slowing down now. After cruising past Baylor and then slaying the region’s number one seed, Arizona, the Badgers have a chance to play for the NCAA championship game for the first time in school history.
Wisconsin boasts one of the best defenses in the country and showed it as they held the high scoring Baylor Bears to just 52 points in the Sweet Sixteen. The Badgers lost four of six games in January, causing concern for vulnerability, but have rebounded nicely since then, only losing one game after Feb. 1 to Michigan State.
The biggest thing that will benefit the Badgers in their game against the Wildcats is their experience against similar opponents thus far such as Oregon and Arizona, teams who score in bunches, rebound well and push the pace.
The team that features an all-freshman starting line-up is going toe-to-toe with a team and coach that has been to the big dance consistently. But if there is one thing coach Calipari knows, it is how to coach a team of freshmen, as he led his 2012 team to an NCAA championship.
There’s much to like about this year’s team, especially their ability to battle on the boards and finish deep in the paint as well as kick to ball out for three. But the biggest thing that the Wildcats have going for them at the moment is the belief that they have for each other. After their loss in the SEC championship by one point to Florida, the Wildcats new that they could break some brackets in March.
Like UConn, Kentucky had to play their way out of a tough region to reach North Texas, beating nine-seed Kansas State, one-seed Wichita State, four-seed Louisville and two-seed Michigan. All of these are excellent confidence boosters for a young, peaking Kentucky.
Wisconsin vs. Kentucky:
My initial pick to play in the national championship game was Louisville, so it is only fair that I pick the team that dethroned the defending champs. Additionally, coach Cal has much more experience in this situation than Bo Ryan. I believe that the swag that the Wildcats are playing with will carry them past the Badgers.
Florida vs. UConn:
As well as the Huskies have been playing, it is impossible for me to go against Gators this late in the season, especially since they were my pick to win it all from the beginning. The No. 1 scoring defense in the country is going to come up big against a team that virtually runs its offense through one player