After a long week of waiting, the Final Four is finally here. Four teams with vastly different paths to Dallas converge, so who will advance to Monday and who will be heading home?
Let’s dig into both matchups and see if we can keep up our winning edge tonight.
Today’s Free Final Four Picks:
#7 UConn Huskies vs. #1 Florida Gators -7 (Total: 126.5)
The Huskies are a surprise participant in the Final Four (though I did have them as my regional preview long value pick at 18:1), and it was hard to see them carving through a difficult region featuring Virginia, Duke, Villanova, and Michigan State. Yet here they stand, and the diminutive Shabazz Napier is the main reason why. Shabazz has done his best Kemba Walker impersonation, carrying the Huskies on his back with four straight scintillating performances. Tonight will be a difficult challenge, as he and his teammates face on the of the best defenses in the nation.
Florida is here and was SUPPOSED to be here. The #1 overall seed is the only #1 seed still standing and enters tonight as the overwhelming favorite to cut down the nets. They have trememdous balance and great efficiency on offense, but it is on the defensive end where Billy D’s crew has been suffocating. The Gators have held teams to 39.6% shooting from the floor and a ridiculous 57.2 ppg.
The underrated aspect of this game is UConn’s defense. The Huskies don’t have the same reputation, but they have a similar result. They’ve held opponents under 40% from the floor this season as well, and while they allow over 63 points per game, they also play a quicker tempo than the Gators and own a similar plus/minus average differential. In fact, their 39.2% is actually better than Florida’s.
The overrated aspect of this game is that UConn beat them back in November. The Gators were missing players, UConn had no idea who they were as a team yet and that game was SO LONG ago it isn’t super relevant. I’m not sold on revenge being a big motivator – it’s the Final Four man, that should be inspiration enough.
I like Florida and think they are a very complete team. But they aren’t explosive offensively and they are facing a good defense in their own regard. I’m not quite ready to put my money on the UConn moneyline, but I do like them with 7 points cushion.
#2 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #8 Kentucky Wildcats -1.5 (Total: 139)
I am getting tired of experts on tv and radio proclaiming that “Wisconsin will keep this game closer than people expect.” What people are they referring too?? It’s a 1.5 point spread, which is about as close to a pick ‘em as Vegas likes to go for Final Four and Championship games. I’d also wager this is the first time in NCAA Tournament history a #8 seed has been the Vegas favorite three times in the same tourney.
So let’s not get too carried away with the hyperbole on this game. What this game is, is a matchup between two very good teams who are good in very different ways. Who ever can control the tempo and style of this game will likely win, and I’m not sure that automatically tips the scales in Kentucky’s favor.
Wisconsin of 2014 is not the Bo Ryan plodding Wisconsin Badgers of old. This team likes to score and can do so effectively. They have scored 75 or more points in four of their last six games. However, they don’t want to get out and run with Kentucky. Kentucky’s chief advantage is their athleticism and their big guards who can score in transition. Wisconsin blocks out well, so I think they will do a better job of preventing offensive rebounds than some experts are giving them credit for – but if Kentucky can create transition opportunities and scramble plays, weakside rebounding becomes a much tougher challenge for the Badgers.
I like Wisconsin to play smart and try to control the tempo. It might not be enough to get the win, but it should be enough to keep this game in the 60’s and under the 139 total.