The stage is set and one of the best weekends in sports is upon us. This upcoming weekend, the remaining teams left in the NCAA basketball tournament will tip it off in the Final Four, followed by the National Championship Game on Monday evening. Here is a look at the final two games, the four teams playing, and who might be cutting down the nets next Monday night.
#1 Florida (South Region Winner) vs #7 Connecticut (East Region Winner)
Not only has Florida steamrolled every team in the tournament since entering as the #1 overall seed, but they have also extended their winning streak to 30-games. The irony in all of this? Their last loss was back on December 2nd to none other than the Connecticut Huskies. The Huskies, who upset 2-seed Villanova, 3-seed Iowa State and 4-seed Michigan State, will look to make it two in a row against the team that has only lost two games on the entire season.
The x-factor in this game could be the impact of Scottie Wilbekin. The senior guard from Gainesville was playing in just his third game back from a suspension that kept him out of the first five games of the season. Wilbekin did have 15-points on that night against UCONN, but his performance, as well as what we’ve seen from the rest of the Gators with him in the lineup, was nothing compared how this team has looked since that loss. Wilbekin has also been hot in the tournament, putting up 23, 13, 21 and 10 in his first four games. Also look for a huge game from Casey Prather. Another senior, Prather was the heart of this team while Wilbekin was out. He also was the leading scorer that night on December 2nd, when he put up 19 against the Huskies. Prather came up big in the second round against Albany, scoring 16 in the effort. But in his last three games he’s only tallied 8, 12 and 6, respectively. The Gators will need both Prather and Wilbekin to come up big if they want to get revenge on the Huskies and make their way into the Championship Game.
As for the Huskies, they have the claim to fame that they’ve already beaten this Gators team once already on the year. That alone will give them a boost of momentum going into this Final Four game on Saturday evening. In their win against the Gators earlier in the year, the Huskies were ranked #12 in the nation at that point and had an impressive 8-0 record. It took a Shabaz Napier three-pointer at the buzzer, but the win showed just how ready the Huskies were in their first year out of the Big East.
Just a few games after the Huskies beat the Gators, and during what would be the beginning of a huge streak by Florida, UCONN experienced a variety of speed bumps that slowed down their momentum. They lost to Stanford in a nail bitter the week before Christmas and their final game of 2013 and first game of 2014 were both losses to Houston and SMU, respectively. The Huskies also lost to Cincinnati and SMU one more time, as well as three losses to Louisville (including one in the American Athletic conference tournament). However, none of this matters now as Napier, who seems like he has been around forever, will look to lead the Huskies to their first National Championship game since the now-senior was a freshman. It was that year that Napier, Lamb and Kemba Walker lead the Huskies on a Big East and National Championship run that saw a team that finished 9th in their own conference, turn into the #1 team in the land at the end of the year. They’ll hope that their run isn’t over this year, as they look to advance past the Gators on Saturday.
Odds: The Gators currently stand at -6.5 favorites over the Huskies.
#2 Wisconsin (West Region Winner) vs #8 Kentucky (Midwest Region Winner)
The team that started the year as #1 in the preseason polls is proving why, no matter how bad things go in the regular season, it’s tournament time that counts. Kentucky was given an 8-seed when this tournament all started, which was disputed by a variety of outlets. Some thought it was too high, some thought it was too low and many agreed that it was disrespectful to put them in the same region as the undefeated Wichita State Shockers. Nonetheless, the Wildcats have prevailed and proven that their star-studded cast of freshman one-and-done players are ready for the big stage.
Arguably, the Wildcats have had one heck of a tough road getting to where they are. Their first round matchup was against the 9-seeded Kansas State Wildcats, who they disposed of, 56-49. Then in that third round against the Shockers, Kentucky narrowly escaped with a 78-76 win. That win then setup a huge matchup against Louisville, which might have been the biggest game of the tournament thus far. In what was a close one all game, Kentucky was able to prevail, 74-69. And while many thought that the effort that would go into playing an in-state rival would be too much to follow up, the Wildcats were also able to win against 2-seeded Michigan, 75-72. Now they sit in the Final Four just one year after missing the tournament all together, and two years after winning their first National Championship since 1998. The Wildcats are just two games away from winning their second in two years, but they’ll have to get past Wisconsin first.
For being a 2-seed, the Badgers from Wisconsin aren’t getting much love heading into their matchup. This is a Wisconsin team that many thought might get a 1-seed and that won their first three games of the tournament by huge margins. They won by 40 over American, 8 over Oregon and 17 over Baylor. Their last game was certainly the toughest that they’ve had thus far in the tournament, where the Arizona Wildcats took them to overtime, but the Badgers still prevailed 64-63. But don’t forget this was an Arizona team that only lost five games on the year and spent a load of weeks as the #1 team in the country.
For those considering who might come ahead in this game, don’t sleep on Wisconsin. They rolled teams in the first three games they played, so it showed how dominate they can be. However, they may have gotten a bit lazy going into the Elite 8, where Arizona quickly woke them up and showed just how quickly this dream run can be over. With that close call last weekend, you can bet that the Badgers won’t fall asleep on Kentucky in their matchup on Saturday night. However, considering Kentucky is often a team that likes to come back from big deficits, it may not matter and we could still be looking at a close one.
Odds: Despite the Badgers being the higher ranked seed, Kentucky is -2 favorites in this game.