Step aside Cinderella, it’s time for big boy ball. Gators, Huskies, Badgers and Wildcats will all converge this weekend in North Texas as college basketball looks to crown a new king. This year features four well-respected basketball programs, with all four schools bringing talented teams that could win it all. Who comes out on top? Here is some food for thought, after you are done putting your bracket through the shredder:
Just like the last two No. 1 overall seeds, the Gators have reached the Final Four and have had relatively few hiccups along the way. They entered the tournament as the favorite and will be the odds-on favorite in North Texas this weekend also. Florida has a unique perspective on all their opponents as they played all three of the other Final Four teams in the regular season. They beat conference rival Kentucky three times, including in the SEC conference championship. However their only two losses came to Connecticut and Wisconsin, albeit they were not at full strength due to injuries during both those games. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is an experienced and poised leader and I don’t think anyone will be surprised to see the Gators getting revenge against the Huskies. Who knows? They may also find themselves cutting down the nets on Monday night.
With Florida and Wisconsin as high seeds and Kentucky as the preseason favorite, UConn is probably the “underdog” out of all four teams since they were not expected to make it this far. After all, they are only the second seventh seed to make it to the Final Four — Virginia did it first in 1984. Of course the Huskies are not a long-suffering fan base as they won the title in 2010 with legendary coach Jim Calhoun and star player Kemba Walker. The 2014 Huskies are being led by a comparable star in Shabazz Napier, a member of the 2010 championship team and Calhoun’s successor Kevin Ollie. Like that run with Walker in 2010, UConn will go as far as Napier takes them. He drained a last second shot in December to defeat Florida, and he may be called upon again in a similar situation this weekend.
The Badgers have long been known as a defensive team, but that has all changed this year with a potent offense led by junior big man Frank Kaminsky. Wisconsin is also the feel-good story coming into this weekend as this is long-time head coach Bo Ryan’s first Final Four. While the other three teams have all won championships fairly recently, Wisconsin has not been to a Final Four since 2000 and has not won it all since their lone title in 1941. Like Florida, no one will be too surprised to see the Badgers cutting down the nets when all is said and done. However, they get the tougher semi-final draw against the young guns of Kentucky and will look to Kaminsky to assert himself down low.
The Wildcats will be trying to match the 1985 Villanova team and become the second eight seed — the lowest ever — to win the Big Dance. Kentucky was picked No. 1 before the season began and for good reason as they are very deep and talented. There are many who still believe the Wildcats will win it all this weekend, but it will come down to consistency and discipline for John Calipari’s squad as it has all season. A team made of individuals headed for the NBA will have to play well as a team two more times. If the Wildcats play to their potential, this could be their championship to lose as an eight seed, probably only time you’ll ever see that in a Final Four.