Each Final Four matchup has an interesting story line

Posted: April 07, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas - Florida has not lost since Dec. 2 when Connecticut beat the Gators. That would be 30 straight wins. UConn lost eight times this season, all to teams that are no longer playing. They were non-competitive in three losses to Louisville.

Wisconsin beat the regular season and tournament champions of the Southeastern Conference (Florida again) and Atlantic Coast Conference (Virginia), the tournament champion of the Ohio Valley (Eastern Kentucky) and the regular-season champions of the Atlantic 10 (Saint Louis) and Horizon (Green Bay). Kentucky has lost 10 games this season, getting swept by Arkansas and really swept by Florida (three times).

Of the Final Four teams, Florida clearly was the best during this regular season.

Given the trifecta of teams Kentucky beat to get here (Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan), it is fair to say the Wildcats have been the best of the Final Four during the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

So, it's Florida-Kentucky for a fourth time Monday night for the championship at AT&T Stadium? That is a perfectly rational scenario, but they will play two games tonight to decide what is rational and what is real.

Florida and UConn go first, matching two of the best defenses in the sport. The Gators are No. 1 in defensive efficiency (.885 points per possession), the Huskies No. 10 (.930 PPP).

UConn has the better shooters from three and the way better shooters from the foul line (77.4 percent on the season, 41 of 44 in the East Regional last weekend). Shabazz Napier has gone for 24, 25, 19 and 25 points so far.

"The game-altering plays, he makes those," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said of his star.

The Gators, believe it or not, play at a slower pace (63 possessions per game) than Wisconsin, demonstrating the brilliance of their coach, Billy Donovan. If making it difficult for opponents to score is your best attribute, keep those opponents' possessions to a minimum and they will get frustrated. In their four NCAA wins, all by double digits, the Gators held opponents to 55, 45, 68 and 52 points.

Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin will have the hardest job in Texas tonight. He will be guarding Napier.

"It gives me a chance to go against the best," Wilbekin said.

After hurting an ankle, he watched the final seconds of the clock tick down in the locker room when Florida lost at UConn. The noise told him somebody (Napier) had hit a buzzer-beater. By the way, in four tournament games, Wilbekin has very quietly been sensational - 67 points, 12 assists, six steals, two turnovers.

Ollie brought his team for a Final Four stadium tour in early January after UConn lost to Houston on New Year's Eve and SMU on Jan. 4 to start American Athletic Conference play 0-2.

Florida has played all three of these teams. The other three have played only Florida.

Forty minutes after one part of the championship game is decided, we get Wisconsin-Kentucky, two of the best offenses in the sport. The Badgers are fourth in offensive efficiency (1.2 PPP), Kentucky ninth (1.18 PPP). The Badgers have been a sensational offensive team all season, the Wildcats so efficient in this tournament that they zoomed up the charts after 1.26 and 1.16 efforts against top-10 defenses in Wichita State and Louisville and an amazing 1.32 against Michigan's average defense.

"To see the joy from individual players, it's been an amazing ride," UK coach John Calipari said.

It is also the nation's best offensive rebounding team (Kentucky gets an incredible 42 percent of its missed shots) against the nation's 12th best defensive rebounding team.

And it is Julius Randle, the old-school Kentucky man-child on one side, Frank Kaminsky, the 2014 version of a big man on the other.

"We can't simulate Kentucky," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.

Nobody has the Wildcats' combination of size and athleticism.

"He's been played like Shaq was in college," Calipari said of Randle.

But who will guard Kaminsky, a matchup nightmare for Arizona's bigs last Saturday and perhaps for Kentucky's tonight.

Calipari called Ryan Sunday night after the matchup was set, two Pennsylvania guys, one from outside Pittsburgh, the other from outside Philadelphia.

"We just talked, like, 'Hey, Cal, congrats.' 'Hey, Bo, congrats.' 'Hey, see you down there, let's have some fun with it,' "Ryan said. "The normal guy talk. We've known each other for a long time."

Ryan, however, could not resist one zinger this week. It was Coach Cal who said before this season that Kentucky was college basketball.

"I tell you, the people here in this state are crazy about basketball," Ryan said of Wisconsin. "They realize that they didn't invent it like some other states believe."

Could have been talking about Indiana or Kentucky. Or both.

Calipari might not have understood what Kentucky was all about when he took the job in 2009. He knows now.

"The job at Kentucky ages you," he said. "I look at the press conference I had 5 years ago, I didn't look like this," Calipari said.

This Final Four did not look like the brackets when they began to be completed. It is defense against defense in Game 1 and offense against offense in Game 2. Out of 11 million brackets submitted in ESPN's bracket challenge, only 612 had this Final Four. This clearly should be much clearer, now that we are down to the final three games. Should be, but really isn't.

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