Over the past two weeks, the 2014 NCAA Tournament has lived up to the hype as one of the most exciting in all of March Madness history. The drama, great play, and exhilaration has aptly yielded a very competitive and compelling 2014 Final Four, set for battle Saturday from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas before Monday night’s National Championship. Before we preview the Final Four matchups, here is isportsweb’s list of best games in the 2014 NCAA Tournament so far.
- Kentucky vs. Michigan, Elite 8
- Kentucky vs. Wichita State, 3rd Round
- Wisconsin vs. Arizona, Elite 8
- Dayton vs. Ohio State, 2nd Round
- Arizona State vs. Texas, 2nd Round
Honorable Mentions: SFA vs. VCU, UCONN vs. St. Joe’s, UNC vs. ISU, MSU vs. UVA, NDST vs. OU, Manhattan vs. LOU, Mercer vs. Duke, UK vs. LOU
1) Florida vs. 7) UCONN
Even at just age 48, Billy Donovan has already achieved a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame worthy career, doing the seemingly impossible by transforming the traditional football school Florida into a basketball powerhouse. Donovan won back-to-back National Championships in 2006 and 2007 and his 2014 Gators are his fourth Final Four team in Gainesville since the turn of the century. Florida is the overall top seeded team in the tournament for a reason; they are led by a seasoned group of four seniors and are equally balanced on the offensive and defensive ends. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin is the leader, the SEC player of the year averages 13.4 points per game and is one of the best players in the nation late in the game or shot clock. He’s flanked by Casey Prather on the wing and Patric Young and Dorian Finney-Smith down low on the blocks. The Gators enter Arlington riding a 30 game winning streak in large part due to their lock down defense, efficient offense, and physical depth that can demoralize opponents. Their last lose was on December 2nd to their next opponent, UCONN.
The UCONN Huskies are no stranger to the Final Four, winning the National Championship in 2011 behind the legendary point guard Kemba Walker and Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun. Replacing a pair of mythical stars can sometimes be daunting, but so far has proved to be attainable for Shabazz Napier and Kevin Ollie. Napier, a freshman on the 2011 Huskies Championship team, is perhaps the best guard in the nation. In his senior campaign, Napier averaged 18.1 points per game and effectively carried UCONN for large portions of the year, including hitting the game-winning shot against Florida back in December. Ollie’s story is remarkable. A former captain for Jim Calhoun during his UCONN playing days, Ollie was handpicked by Calhoun to be his successor after retiring in 2012, despite no prior head coaching experience. In just his 2nd year at the helm, Ollie has taken the Huskies back to the Final Four.
The Pick: Napier will be the best player on the floor, but the Gators have considerably more depth and balance than the Huskies. UCONN was really helped by the committee with placement in Buffalo and Madison Square Garden, which were de facto home games for the Huskies. Florida will avenge their early season loss, 67-57.
2) Wisconsin vs. 8) Kentucky
Bo Ryan finally did it. In his 13th year as the Badgers head coach and a long streak of sustained excellence, Ryan is going to the Final Four for the first time. Wisconsin is known, and is sometimes mocked for, their extremely deliberate and methodical style of play, commonly draining the shot clock on offense while knocking teams around defensively on the glass. This Wisconsin team is in the same mold, just with more explosive offensive talent. Their best player is Frank Kaminsky, a 7 footer that plays like a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki with the ability to shoot from the perimeter and take bigger defenders off the dribble into the lane. By his side is forward Sam Dekker and the very capable backcourt of Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust. Wisconsin spaces the floor really well, can make 3-pointers, and score in the paint, making them a very difficult matchup.
Haters are going to hate, but what John Calipari has accomplished at Kentucky (not to mention his impressive beginnings at UMASS and Memphis) is truly one of the greatest achievements in recent coaching history. Yes, he gets the best players, but consider this: Kentucky played seven freshman and one sophomore in advancing to the Final Four versus a very game Michigan squad. Throwing away last season’s NIT debacle, Calipari has taken four utterly and completely different teams to the Elite 8, Final 4, winning the National Championship, and again to the Final Four respectively. This year’s incarnation revolves around the post play of big man Julius Randle, a double-double machine averaging 15.1 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per contest. When the Wildcats aren’t dumping it to Randle in the post, they have a three guard attack of James Young and twin brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison all capable of dribble-driving or shooting from the outside.
The Pick: This is Bo Ryan’s best Wisconsin team but they are running into a way-too-hot Kentucky group at the moment. Amazingly, Kentucky’s last three wins were all against Final Four teams (Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan). These young Wildcats have grown up in an enormous way, and will advance at the horn again, 75-73.
National Championship: If this matchup comes to fruition, it will be the 4th time that Florida and Kentucky will play. Florida won the first three times. But Kentucky is better now. As in, National Championship worthy better. The Wildcats bring another title and pandemonium back to Lexington, 70-67.