College Basketball: The Final Four Are Here…Who Will Be The Champion?
After two weekends of battle across the United States, college basketball’s Final Four have descended on Arlington, TX (and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ palace to football) to determine the National Champion. Those four teams – the Florida Gators, the University of Connecticut Huskies, the Wisconsin Badgers and the Kentucky Wildcats – have proven their mettle through the NCAA Tournament. Now they stand just 80 minutes away from college basketball immortality as a champion.
The two games that will be played on Saturday have some intriguing aspects to them. In one, it is a rematch of an early December game that was a bit of a surprise and the second presents a contrast in styles that should make for an outstanding game (pick in bold).
Game One – Florida vs. UConn
Way back on December 2, Florida took a road trip to Storrs for a game they might have taken a bit lightly. The then-#12 ranked Huskies used a Shabazz Napier buzzer beater to down the then-15th ranked Gators 65-64. That was the last time that Florida lost, racking up a streak of 30 wins since that loss.
A good deal of Florida’s success has rested in the hands of guard Scott Wilbekin, who has bloomed as a playmaker and distributor for the Florida offense. Wilbekin has a great roster to assist him, with forward Casey Prather (the team’s leading scorer at 14.2 points per game) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith leading the glass crashers for the Gators with a 6.8 per game average. Overall, however, the Gators aren’t overwhelming in the statistical analysis: they are 181st in points per game, 131st in rebounds per game and 117th in assists per game. Their true colors come out on defense, though, with their 3rd place ranking in defensive points allowed over the season.
With UConn, everything begins and ends with Napier, who led the team in points, rebounding, assists and free throw percentage over the course of the season. Forward DeAndre Daniels has played a great “second banana” to Napier, as the second leading scorer and rebounder for the team. They also aren’t outstanding in the statistical categories, finishing in 144th in PPG, 146th in RPG and 179th in APG.
The key to this game will be the performance of the stars. If Napier can go off (as he has done all season), then it could be a long afternoon for the Gators. On the other side of the equation, if the Huskies can’t come up with an answer for Wilbekin or Prather, it will be a tough road. I expect that the Gators will have learned their lesson from their last loss and not let off the gas pedal against the Huskies, taking the win and moving one step closer to head coach Billy Donovan’s third NCAA title.
Game Two – Wisconsin vs. Kentucky
Badgers head coach Bo Ryan is making his first trip (surprisingly) to the Final Four with a balanced team that defies some of the hallmarks of a Ryan squad. Instead of relying on a defensive mindset and grind it out style (still impressive as the 37th best defense in college basketball), Wisconsin actually can score as witnessed by their 73.5 PPG average (92nd ranked). Forward Frank Kaminsky has emerged as the heart of the team, leading the Badgers in both scoring and rebounding (expected of a seven footer). The “X-factor” for the team may be senior guard Ben Brust, who is the man who will have the ball in his hands on offense (and make the decisions) and attempt to keep up with the Kentucky guards on D.
The youth of Kentucky is maturing at the right time for head coach John Calipari. Starting five freshmen in the NCAA Tournament, forward Julius Randle is leading the team in scoring and rebounding, but there is plenty of help amassed around him. Guard James Young and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, all average in double digit points per game and Aaron already has shown his clutch ability in nailing the shot that sent Michigan home from the proceedings. The one detriment to the team may be the loss of forward Willie Cauley-Stein, who injured his foot against Louisville and didn’t play against Michigan.
This game is going to be entirely tempo-driven. Although they have more offense, the Badgers don’t want to get in a running game with the Wildcats, otherwise they’ll be blasted out of the Jerry Dome. I normally prefer age and experience over youth and enthusiasm, but this time around I will have to take Kentucky to win the game with the five freshmen (and potentially Cauley-Stein, a sophomore) who probably will be playing the game for cash next season.
Championship Game – Florida vs. Kentucky
On Monday night, these two teams that know each other very well will determine who the National Champion will be. They have already played three times this season, with Florida taking two of them by dominant margins (ten points and 19 points) and the third by one at the SEC Tournament. It will be another nail-biter this time around (if you’re betting the game, take whomever is the underdog and the points), but I expect Florida to emerge as the victor when all is said and done.
Sweet Sixteen Picks: After coming into Sweet Sixteen weekend with my Final Four intact, went 2-2 in actually picking the representatives in Texas (yes, one of my picks – Michigan State – went down, along with defending champion Louisville).
Season: 33-25-1, guaranteeing that I’ll have a winning record for the season! It would make it much better, however, if I am 3-0 after Monday night.
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