Men's Basketball 2014 NCAA Tournament Final Four Game Breakdowns

Florida Men's Basketball NCAA Tournament
2014 NCAA Tournament Final Four Game Breakdowns
#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut (Arlington, Texas)
The Florida Gators, winners of the East region, have won 30 consecutive ballgames. That streak has seen them top the Kentucky Wildcats three different times during the season, as well as win each of their four tournament games by double figures on their way to the Final Four. At 36-2, the only two teams to defeat Florida all season long happen to be other members of the 2014 Final Four: the Wisconsin Badgers and UF's next opponent, the Connecticut Huskies. Florida lost to Wisconsin way back in November and then to UConn on December 2. It hasn't lost a game since.
In that December tilt, the Huskies' Shabazz Napier hit the game-winning shot as time expired to give UConn a one-point victory. He scored a game-high 26 points that night, just as he topped all scorers in Connecticut's regional final win over Michigan State to reach the Final Four. Napier has been so special and so dominant this season, especially during the postseason, that it brings back memories of UConn's national championship run in 2011, led by Kemba Walker. In the Huskies' four NCAA tournament games, Napier has averaged 23.3 points per game, never scoring fewer than 19. He's also grabbed a total of 24 rebounds and 8 steals while dishing out 18 assists and hitting 25 of his 27 free-throw attempts. There is nothing he cannot do and nothing he isn't doing for this Connecticut team. Husky fans will remember Walker produced a couple 30-point games in his famous tournament run, but Napier is doing a pretty good impression.
As for Florida, a lot has changed for it since that loss to UConn; namely that they became the best team in the country. The Gators' defense is extraordinary, led by Patric Young in the middle and Will Yeguete roaming the paint. They are perhaps the deepest and most well-rounded team in the nation, with the ability to score from inside or outside, as well as shut opponents down on the other end. It is hard to say a team that has made the Final Four has yet to be challenged in the tournament, but that is pretty close to accurate when every victory has come by at least ten points. And with a bench rotation led by Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill, even the Gators who don't start are players that need to be game-planned against.
In the Final Four matchup, where the top-seeded Gators will take on the seventh-seeded Huskies, Florida would seem to have the advantage. They have a deeper roster and better rotation. They have the more experienced coach, as Billy Donovan already has multiple national championships to his name. They also have a more talented defensive team as well as just as many offensive weapons as UConn can produce. However, it is hard to count out Napier and the rest of the Huskies with the way they are playing right now. Obviously past performances from past teams have no bearing on a current group of guys, but this team is eerily reminiscent of the Kemba Walker group from Napier's rookie year when head coach Kevin Ollie was just an assistant to Jim Calhoun. If Florida goes on to beat Connecticut, it will seem obvious they were the better squad. However, if the Huskies pull out another win, it will seem equally as obvious that the parallels were there.
#2 Wisconsin vs. #8 Kentucky (Arlington, Texas)
The Wisconsin Badgers may have had the most literal up-and-down season possible. They started off the year 16-0, accumulating wins over Florida, Virginia, St. Louis and Iowa, among others. Then, the Badgers hit that proverbial down and lost five of their next six ballgames. These losses, all in the Big Ten, came at the hands of some real bottom feeders. The season appeared lost, even though no one was quite sure what had changed. Then the switch was flipped again, and the team only lost twice more all season long on its way to the West regional title and the Final Four. While Ben Brust and Sam Dekker were great all season, the Badgers' top player this tournament has been center Frank Kaminsky. The seven-foot junior has poured in 66 points in the last three games alone, while shooting 27 for 46 from the floor from round three on.
Wisconsin's opponent in Texas will be none other than the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky may be the only squad in America more familiar with the term up-and-down than Wisconsin. UK entered the year as the preseason number one team in the country on the back of arguably the best recruiting class in college basketball history. Except, those five-star freshmen struggled a bit throughout the regular season, leading to the Wildcats getting just an eight seed in the big dance. However, as evidenced by the lofty goals prior to the year, this team was one of the most talented in the country from top to bottom even as 28+ teams were targeted as being better. Coach John Calipari started five freshmen for most of the season and routinely brought four and five-star recruits off the bench as well. In the regional final, with Willie Cauley-Stein out with an injury, Marcus Lee, a completely forgotten man on the bench, came in to score ten points and grab eight rebounds. Lee received four stars, an 89 grade from recruitment services and was rated as a top ten power forward coming out of high school. However, because of that amazing depth, he was only averaging 5.7 minutes per game.
With Kentucky facing Wisconsin for a trip to the national championship, the big guys inside will be even more important. The Wildcats have been a top interior team all season, especially rebounding the basketball. Wisconsin though is arguably getting even better play out of its main post player. The important factor to note with Kaminsky for Wisconsin is that he can and often wants to step out and shoot threes. Balanced with his ability to score in the post, he has been playing like one of the most outstanding players in this tournament. The same could be said though for Kentucky's Andrew and Aaron Harrison. While the twin freshmen guards struggled mightily at times during the year, they seem to have gotten comfortable during the postseason and have reached a peak level of play that was rarely seen in the prior months.
For UK coach Calipari it is the latest attempt for him to prove that talent wins out. Experience is overrated in his mind, or at least experience is unnecessary in November and December. By the time these freshmen have reached the most important games of the season, they have gained all the experience they need to excel and win. On the other side, Bo Ryan has finally made a Final Four and kicked up his team's offensive output to do so. For years and years, Wisconsin teams were hammered by analysts and fans for "ruining the game" by playing so slowly and methodically but winning with defense. This year's Badgers roster can still defend, but it can also score in droves. That will be the difference in this Final Four matchup. Kentucky is hitting its stride and has the edge athletically. If Wisconsin can hang around and hit enough threes to keep pace, this should be a close finish. At this point, seeds are irrelevant, but as the eight seed, UK is no underdog.