And then there were four.
Another successfully wild month of March brings us to the defining stage of the process. When we're this deep into the NCAA Tournament, and this close to witnessing a new national champion, it becomes that much more difficult to predict and analyze because every team is here for a reason. In this case, all four teams have endured gauntlets in their respective regions in order to reach this point, so needless to say, they all belong here. Still, we can size these teams up and assess based on match ups and momentum, which is my intent here in my Final Four Synopsis.
#1 Florida Gators - South Region
Billy Donovan's team held off the feisty Dayton Flyers in the Elite Eight to reach their first Final Four since 2007. The no. 1 overall seeded Gators are indeed the best team in the country when you look at having necessary facets of scoring, defense, size, paint presence, point guard play, experience, speed, adaptability and athleticism. They are the most complete package of any of the four remaining teams.
Florida excels with the size and mobility of their front line. Seniors Casey Prather, Will Yequete, and Patric Young make things extremely difficult for opponents because of their versatility, physicality, and activity, particularly on the glass. SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin is the engine, along with the only underclassman in the starting line up, Michael Frazier II, probably the Gators' streakiest scoring threat on the perimeter. Throw in another versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman guard Kasey Hill and you have 30 consecutive wins going into the Final Four.
AGAINST UCONN: It's about defending and containing on the perimeter. Shabazz Napier is the scariest individual player in the tournament, and Wilbekin will have to take on that assignment. Florida needs to do what Michigan State failed to do against the Huskies, use their athletic advantage and impose their presence in the paint and on the glass. To advance to the national championship, the Gators will have to contain the Napier/Boatwright attack, keep active on shooters, and use their experience and athleticism to create simple opportunities against a very sharp team defense.
#7 Connecticut Huskies - East Region
The Huskies and second-year head coach Kevin Ollie make a Final Four appearance similar to their 2011 campaign, and the parallels between Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier are evident. Walker was the last player before Napier to lead their team to the Final Four while scoring or assisting on at least 45% of their team's points in the tournament.
What makes the Huskies go actually starts with Ollie's active enthusiasm, but on the floor it's about the attack of Napier and Ryan Boatright in the back court. Their ability to break down defenses and get into the paint has made them formidable all season. But in the NCAA tournament, DeAndre Daniels has added 17 points per game to Napier's steady 23.3, making the Huskies' offense more dimensional. The Huskies knocked off Michigan State in the Elite Eight with concerted team defense that disrupted the Spartans into turnovers and contested shots, keeping it just close enough for Shabazz Napier to deliver down the stretch.
AGAINST FLORIDA: Napier and Boatright must continue to find ways to create against the length of the Gators. Most important for UConn will be to limit extra possessions for Florida on the glass. If UConn's guards can manage to disrupt Florida at all, keep them off the glass, and keep the game close, there's no reason why Shabazz Napier can't lead the Huskies to the national championship.
#2 Wisconsin Badgers - West Region
Bo Ryan's first Final Four appearance is much deserving. This Wisconsin team had people impressed all season, much like they routinely have under Ryan as head coach, but this team has shown special ability and toughness on both ends of the floor.
The Badgers average 73.5 points per game, the most they've averaged in the last 20 years. Their offense is well paced, and mostly inside-out with 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky. His polished skill set, along with junior guard Traevon Jackson, the Badgers' best playmaker from the perimeter, really anchor Wisconsin's patient offensive attack. They get outside shooting from guards Ben Brust and Josh Gasser, and all players show the willingness to show tremendous discipline and unselfishness both offensively and defensively.
AGAINST KENTUCKY: The Badgers have to try and remind the Wildcats of their youth. How? Physicality. Wisconsin needs to be able to keep both Harrison twins in front of them and not only them to play downhill. Their best advantage is to force Kentucky into a game of discipline and execution, and I think Sam Dekker, Wisconsin's athletic sophomore swing forward will have to make a stamp on this game for the Badgers to advance to the national championship game.
#8 Kentucky Wildcats - Midwest Region
Calipari and the kids are back again. What could end in a truly historic run for the Wildcats has already given us some all-time great tournament games from the Midwest Region of Doom. Somehow these kids have crawled out from their freshman shells and found their selflessness and willingness to trust and play for each other.
The talent of Kentucky's preseason no. 1 overall ranking has taken form in the tournament. Andrew and Aaron Harrison have figured out their appropriate pace and aggressiveness going to the basket. James Young is taking and making (it seems like) all of the right shots. Julius Randle continues to show his pro value by winning practically every individual match up he encounters on the block and on the glass. This young team thus far has remained unphased, and with their talent manifesting they're the scariest team remaining.
AGAINST WISCONSIN: Kentucky needs to continue their streak of resilience and toughness. Discipline will be the key defensively against the patience and precision of Wisconsin's offense, but the Wildcats can gain an edge with their speed in the open court. Oddly enough, with this young group you can say that all they need to do is what they've been doing up to this point: play without fear.
- Martin S (@marley_mcfly)