“Jerry’s Place” (AT&T Stadium) in Arlington, Texas is set to stage a big-time sporting event this weekend. No, it’s not the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Playoffs (much to Jerry Jones’ dismay), it’s the 2014 NCAA Final Four. Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky are all ready to lace-up the shoes and get things rolling on Saturday in the National Semi-Finals.
Up to this point College Hoops fans have been treated to an exciting brand of basketball. The type of ball where even the slightest of inches count. Literally the tightest call has determined the outcome of a game.
And only College Basketball fans will understand the next phrase uttered: A #1, #2, #7 and #8, you have to love it.
#7 Connecticut vs #1 Florida (-6.5), Saturday, 4/5/14, 6:09 PM ET
UConn has been the biggest surprise of the tournament. You would never believe such a team in transition would make the Final Four. With the retirement of legendary coach Jim Calhoun, the Big East/ACC disaster, and the NCAA sanctions put on the school, second year head coach Kevin Ollie has done a masterful job. Defeating Tom Izzo’s #4 seeded Michigan State Spartans in the East Regional final last weekend was the topper.
If Ollie is playing as the coach of the tournament, then UConn Guard Shabazz Napier is playing as the player of the tournament. Napier has scored 24, 25, 19 and 25 points respectively in UConn’s four tournament games, according to ESPN.com. At certain points he’s carried the Huskies to victory doing his best Kemba Walker impression.
The Florida Gators, led by head coach Billy Donovan, did exactly what was expected of them. Coming into the tournament as the #1 overall seed, they have made it look easy. Unlike the other three Final-Four teams, the Gators don’t have that one star-player that they look to. They’re a balanced, well-run squad.
This match-up is an interesting one considering these two basketball titans played once already this season. Back in December Shabazz Napier hit a buzzer-beater to hand the Gators one of their two losses on the season.
The key to this one will come down to Napier’s supporting cast. Napier is a willing passer, and will have to be in this one against Billy Donovan’s multiple defensive looks he throws out there each game. The Gators are so tough to prepare for, and their lineup is so versatile that switching on defense is common place.
The supporting cast for UConn must be the difference in the game. UConn guard Ryan Boatright and forward DeAndre Daniels need to come up huge, or Billy Donovan will be playing for his third career National Championship on Monday night.
#8 Kentucky (-1.5) vs #2 Wisconsin, Saturday, 4/514, 8:49 PM ET
Kentucky entered the 2013 season as the #1 ranked team in the preseason rankings. It means nothing once the season gets going however. A very average season by John Calipari’s freshmen-filled team earned them a very average #8 seed in the tournament.
However as many experts know: it’s not how you start, it is how you finish. Kentucky’s young pups came together at just the right time, and with no warning. Nobody expected this. Especially with how clutch each and every youngster has been in huge games (defeating Louisville, Wichita State).
Freshman guard Aaron Harrison has drained so many big shots for the Wildcats that we’ve lost count. Freshman forward Julius Randle has so many NBA scouts drooling over his talent that we have also lost count. They seem to be on one of those “magical carpet rides” that only happen once a life.
Bo Ryan has finally gotten his Wisconsin Badgers to the Final-Four. The basketball-lifer who has gotten so close, so many times, has finally reached the mountain-top with help from his stud big-man Frank Kaminsky.
The 6’11” Junior Center was simply marvelous against Arizona in the Regional-Final last weekend. No matter the defense or who was guarding him, Arizona couldn’t contain the big. Kaminsky finished the game with 28 points on 11 of 20 shooting from the field, including 11 tough rebounds, according to CBS Sports.
Two keys to watch in this one will be the Kentucky foul-trouble angle, and Kentucky’s shooting brilliance coming to an end. One of the major struggles the Wildcats had all season long was their inconsistent outside shooting. Then all of a sudden they start shooting the lights out in the tournament. Can the big-air stadium and a week off cool their shot?
Frank Kaminsky will be a load to handle all night. The fact that Kentucky is not a deep team can be an issue if their athleticism and Kaminsky gets them into foul trouble. Kentucky is fast and Wisconsin plays slow. The pace of the game early will be telling.