Billy Donavan and his Gators look poised to take home Florida’s third NCAA Championship in Donavan’s tenure. Florida has unquestionably been the most consistent team in college basketball this season, going undefeated in their last 29 contests. Ironically, however, UConn was the last team to beat Florida, a 65-64 game that ended on a Shabazz Napier buzzer beater. How Florida responds this time around will be interesting to see. It’s also worth noting that Florida’s other loss this season came to Wisconsin on November 12.
No. 7 UConn
From the Atlantic Athletic Conference— yeah, the conference that seems more like an orphanage for rejected teams— UConn is back in the Final Four since 2011, when Kemba Walker lead the charge for the Huskies. Kemba may be gone, but his successor, Napier, has filled his shoes just fine. What’s more impressive this time around is UConn just came off NCAA probation due to recruiting violations in 2012, which left them unable to play in postseason. Hall of Fame coach, Jim Calhoun resigned, and former UConn guard Kevin Ollie took over the head coaching job. Give credit to Napier for not leaving and sticking it out, because the UConn Huskies are back in the college basketball spotlight, after what some thought could have been a long dark period for this historic program.
Prediction: Florida moves onto the championship round. Napier will come to play and will put in a valiant effort. But it takes a full team to beat these Gators, as they can come at you in so many ways. Scotty Wilbekin is an outstanding point guard, Patric Young is a major force in the paint, and Michael Frazier is a laser three point shooter. UConn may have gotten the first laugh, but in a win or go home scenario, Florida looks too much like a champion now to pick against them.
Bo Ryan is the best coach you have never heard about. Ryan has 704 wins in his career, and 321 wins at Wisconsin where he has been coaching since 2001. But one thing he didn’t have, until now, was a Final Four appearance. But now that he’s here, don’t expect him to be satisfied. These Badgers can play. Frank Kaminsky, a seven-foot long range bomber causes problems for opposing teams with his ability to hit threes and rebound the ball. Wisconsin teams are typically known for grinding out wins on defense, and slow paced offense. But as the analysts are saying, “this is not your father’s Bo Ryan team.” This team can run, get out in transition, and can beat you in the half court, too. Their defense can be shaky at times , but it’s been good enough to get them this far.
Whether you love or hate the one and done game, and whether or not you hate that guy who got the Kentucky National Champions tattoo before March Madness even began, bottom line: these cats have grown up, and they’re playing a very good brand of basketball as of late. Everyone likes to talk about Julius Randle being a beast, but what’s made Kentucky into the team as of late is the great play by the Harrison twins. John Calipari’s teams are notorious for having athletic point guards (Derrick Rose, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague). The Harrison twins are coming right along with the rest of them, and at 6’5″, they simply have the physical ability and speed to overwhelm smaller defenders. Don’t trust Kentucky’s 8 seed, because these cats are dangerous.
Prediction: This is a tougher game to judge. These teams have very contrasting styles, with Kentucky looking to use its size, speed, and athleticism to power the ball inside, while Wisconsin runs a very sophisticated motion offense set. Logic says Kentucky pulls this out because they have the more reliable offense that’s built to get a higher amount of high percentage shots. But the Wildcats are young, and the offense that Wisconsin runs might finally expose Kentucky’s inexperience and confuse them, leading to many open looks for the Badgers great shooters. But if Kentucky doesn’t get too bothered and is able to set up shop inside, Bo Ryan may once again miss out on a chance to play for an NCAA championship. The gut feeling says Kentucky will be the team moving on to face Florida for a fourth time this season. Kentucky lost all three to Florida this year, so expect that to be a major motivator for them to make it to the finals.
This story was written by Neil Frawley.