The Final Four is finally here and I fully expect to see good games that will feature all kinds of swings and back and forth action. Who do I like to advance to Monday night? Read on people!
UConn (+6) vs. Florida – The last time these two teams met UConn defeated the Gators 65-64 in a game that could not have been any tighter than the final score indicates. The Huskies led by one at the half and then the two teams scored the exact same amount of points in the second half of that game. As close as the game was, it was also the very last time the Gators lost a game this season.
Florida comes in with one of the top defenses in the land but we have to give the Huskies credit for their defense as well. What concerns me for the Gators is the size that UConn can bring both in the starting line-up and from off the bench. The Huskies will have a significant height advantage over Florida’s big guys who are around 6’9″ and typically muscle their way to the hoop.
Huskies’ phenomenal guard Shabazz Napier had a 26 point game in that match-up and that’s about what he is averaging so far in the tournament. The challenge for Billy Donovan and company is to not necessarily keep Napier from scoring. They have to make him work for every shot and every point and they also must make him defend at the other end as well.
While Kevin Ollie has done a tremendous job coaching the Huskies, I have to give the coaching edge to Billy Donovan. Guard Scottie Wilbekin is an extension of Donovan on the court and I believe that’s the difference. I love the Huskies getting the six points so take them but I like Florida to advance in a close game.
Kentucky (-2) vs. Wisconsin - Last week while I was watching the Kentucky-Michigan game, I felt either team could have easily won the game and no one could have complained. The one thing I kept coming back to in that game though as it wore on was the overall athleticism of the Wildcats.
Yes, they are a group of freshmen who are doing something we’ve really only seen once before and that was ironically the Fab Five of Michigan 20 years ago. That said, I believe the biggest problem Wisconsin is going to face is the sheer athleticism of Kentucky. I know, I know…. The Badgers face plenty of other athletic teams throughout the season so why is this any different?
I find it different for two reasons; first is the coaching. Love him or hate him, John Calipari can flat out coach and he’s gotten the most out of these kids and then some. The second difference about UK’s athleticism is that these are not weak, scrawny freshmen. These are thick, well-built young men who have weathered the physical storm all season long in the SEC.
The Badgers will counter the athleticism with physicality and precision. While this isn’t one of Bo Ryan’s better defensive teams, this doesn’t mean the Badgers can’t play any D. They will make the Wildcats work on the defensive end and then will play very physical and aggressive man-to-man defense that will challenge Kentucky to take care of the ball.
The fate of UK big man Willie Cauley-Stein is unknown but speculation is that he won’t play in the final four with his ankle injury. I really think Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers will make this interesting but the Wildcats just have too many options and too many athletes. I like Kentucky to cover and advance.