It’s FINALly here, folks. The Rematch tips off at 6:09 to begin the festivities. It has been one of the most exciting (and baffling) tournaments in a long time. There really is no telling what will happen tonight.
What have we learned from 2014’s version of March Madness? We definitely now know that the one-and-done rule has leveled the playing field and mid-majors are truly a threat to all of the powerhouses that use to run the tournament. I doesn’t seem that college sports looks for parity, however. They want conference and school domination. Look at what the BCS created in college football. The SEC (most notably Florida, Bama, Auburn, or LSU) made an appearance in the Championship Game seemingly every year. The Frozen Four of NCAA Hockey is the same way as Boston College, Michigan, and Wisconsin always seem to be in the hunt right until the end. Just ask Arizona State or Florida State what it’s like NOT to be in contention for the College World Series. They wouldn’t have an answer because they always are. In college hoops, however, the powerhouse teams have a new crop of their own freshman and a new starting line-up of their own each season making a repeat extremely difficult. Case in point? Not one Final Four team from last year remains in the hunt.
We also learned that I am finally getting this predicting thing down. My actual projections for the Final Four were off (Syracuse, Michigan State, Louisville, and Oklahoma State as the sleeper), however, I did say that the only number one seed that had any chance at a Final Four appearance was Florida. I also said that it would be seeds 4 and lower that would dominate this years’ bracket and sure enough, we have a 7 and an 8 seed playing in North Texas tonight. So who will be playing Monday night to cut down the nets at the end of the Madness?
I really have no freaking clue. So much of me wants to go ahead and put UConn or Florida down as the winner, but I think that is based on my hatred of John Calipari. He seems to prove on a yearly basis that cheaters always win. Let’s look at each team and see what they bring to the table.
#2 seed Wisconsin (30-7): This is a weird Wisconsin team. Bo Ryan has built this club on the grinder philosophy. Year in and year out they put you to sleep with solid defense and long offensive sets. This year they are running more, and Ryan is at last in the Final Four. Perhaps it is because Frank Kaminsky is a match-up nightmare. If Brian Scalabrine, Shawn Bradley, and Dirk Nowitzki mated, you would get Kaminsky. Standing at 7’0” tall, he can burn you in a lot of ways. If you defend him one-on-one, he is going to beat you off the dribble. If you leave him alone, he is going to bury the three. If you let him in the paint, he’s going to post you up and posterize you. Is he enough to beat this surging Wildcats’ team? I don’t think so, but he has the ability to help Wisconsin move on all by himself a la Never Nervous Pervis.
#8 seed Kentucky Wildcats (28-10):
Once again, John Calipari has built an NBA team in Lexington. Way back in late 2013, this team was the Preseason #1 in college hoops. Like many of Calipari’s past free agents, pardon me, rookies, they simply needed more time to gel together and didn’t get off on the right foot. Plagued by inconsistency, this team dropped some big games. Then the Big Dance started and these guys found their rhythm. The NCAA Championship isn’t always about the best team winning, it is about the hottest team surging to victory. Right now, that is Kentucky. They have defeated three teams in a row that were in last season’s Final Four. On top of that, all three of those teams were legitimate #1 seeds in this tourney (Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan). Julius Randle is an absolute beast on the boards (12 per game in the tourney) and the Harrison twins are on fire. Calipari has the best team money can buy in the match-up and Kentucky advances to the Championship.
#1 Florida Gators (36-2): 30 straight wins, people. The Gators haven’t lost in over 4 months. As many of you are aware, their last lost was to this UConn Huskies team they play this evening. Florida is a much different team than that last meeting: Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill weren’t healthy and Chris Walker wasn’t allowed to play. Since they have been healthy and at full force, they have been literally unbeatable. The only disadvantage I see Florida having is that they have yet to really be challenged in this tournament. Pittsburgh was a good team, but not great. I thought UCLA would really give them a run, but it turned out that they caught fire in the PAC-12 Tourney and ran out of gas by the time the Sweet 16 rolled around. Getting to play Dayton in the Elite 8 was no challenge. As hot as the Fliers were playing, they weren’t good enough to go much further, especially against an elite powerhouse like Florida. Billy Donovan has his squad playing team basketball and all of their cogs are moving together like a well oiled machine. This should be a great game.
#7 seed UConn Huskies (30-8): Nobody is giving these guys a chance, and you can’t really blame them with the way Florida is playing. But there is one reason I am giving them a chance: #SHABAZZKETBALL!!! Shabazz Napier is the best player in the whole Final Four. He has been pretty much the best player on the court in every previous round. He has put up a Player of the Year-type season, but here’s what has happened along the way. DeAndre Daniels has stepped up his game and now Napier has a wing man. Daniels had a monster game against Iowa State in the Sweet 16 and a solid game against Michigan State in the Elite 8. Ryan Boatright has also improved his play over the last few weeks giving the Huskies a very formidable trio. Niels Giffey and Philip Nolan have turned it up and the UConn Huskies have transformed from Shabazz Napier and friends to a well-rounded basketball team. They can key their improved defense and rebounding as the reasons they were able to upset #2 Villanova, #3 Iowa State, and, the team who many considered to be the best team in the tournament (why would I side with Obama? I should have known better), #4 Michigan State. The only thing that is left for them to do is to take down a number one seed, so why not tonight? UConn wins at the buzzer and ends Florida’s 30-game win streak and season.
So, there you have it. I foresee a #7 vs. #8 final. That being said, should Florida win, it will be simply amazing that we get an all-SEC Final. The SEC was arguably the weakest of the “power” conferences in the tournament, yet all three of their teams were represented in the Sweet 16, now two are in the Final Four, and it is highly likely that Kentucky will get one last chance to figure out Florida on Monday night. Whatever happens, we are in for a great weekend of college hoops.
Till next time , folks, we are one step closer to One Shining Moment!