NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final FourPosted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014
#1 Florida vs. #7 Connecticut – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 6:09 PM ET on TBS
The Final Four tips off with a Florida team that has won 30 consecutive games facing the last team to beat it, Connecticut. The Huskies knocked off the Gators in Storrs way back on December 2 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Although it was four months ago, much can be learned from that game. Contrary to popular belief, Florida’s top six rotation players suited up for it, although Scottie Wilbekin left the game with about three minutes to play due to injury. In that contest, Florida absolutely dominated the paint by holding Connecticut to 41.4 percent shooting from two-point range and winning the rebounding battle by eight. However, the Gators lost the game at the three-point line, where they allowed the Huskies to make 11-of-24 attempts. Sixteen Florida turnovers also didn’t help matters for Billy Donovan’s team.
Fast forward to April and the Gators’ front line is formidable as ever. While Connecticut’s interior play has improved and its rebounding has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament, facing Patric Young and the nation’s top-ranked defense will be a tall task for the Huskies. Connecticut is talented but young and raw up front. Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan are just a freshman and sophomore, respectively, while DeAndre Daniels loves to drift away from the paint and is not a back-to-the-basket kind of player. For Kevin Ollie’s team to have success, Napier must continue his dominant performance and Daniels has to make jump shots. Napier and Ryan Boatright are the two constants on this team, but it is Daniels who takes it to another level when playing well. He will likely be guarded by Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith or Young, or any combination of the three. If Daniels cannot get anything going, Napier will have to score 30+ points and Connecticut will have to have another terrific night from the three-point line in order to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.
Defensively, there is no doubt that Connecticut can match Florida. The Huskies’ defense has been phenomenal all season long and doesn’t get the credit it deserves with Napier stealing the spotlight most of the time. Connecticut ranks 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and actually has a slightly stronger interior defense than Florida when you look at opponents’ two-point percentage (one percentage point better than Florida). An important part of Ollie’s game plan will be to limit Scottie Wilbekin and prevent him from easily getting Florida into its sets and taking over the game. Easier said than done, of course.
Perimeter defense will be a concern for both teams in this game. Florida ranked 10th out of 14 teams in SEC games when it came to defending the three-point line while Connecticut was sixth in the 10-team American Athletic Conference. Both teams shoot it well from deep and it is a key part of both of their offenses. Could the game be decided there, as the first meeting was between these teams? It is a distinct possibility. There are many questions, such as how well will Connecticut rebound against a strong Florida front line? The Huskies struggled all year rebounding the ball, but have flipped the script in this Tournament. The fact that Florida has already lost to Connecticut will make the Gators keenly aware of the stakes in this game if they didn’t realize it already. Connecticut has the best player on the floor but Florida has the better team and the better defense. Should it come down to free throw shooting, the advantage swings back to the Huskies in a major way. They are one of the nation’s best foul shooting teams and have been even better in the postseason. You can make a case for either team to win this game and argue it successfully, but we give Florida the slightest of edges here.
The RTC Certified Pick: Florida
#2 Wisconsin vs. #8 Kentucky – National Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – approx. 8:49 PM ET on TBS
After dispatching three of last year’s Final Four teams in exhilarating fashion on its way to the program’s 16th Final Four appearance (which ranks third all-time), what else do the Cardiac Cats have in store for us at AT&T Stadium with the entire basketball world looking on?
John Calipari’s team is now in its third Final Four in four years and is playing with more confidence than perhaps any team in this year’s event, although all are obviously playing well or they wouldn’t have reached this point. In the absence of Willie Cauley-Stein (who is doubtful for the Final Four), Calipari has received terrific contributions from Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson up front. When you combine that with the consistent production of Julius Randle and the burgeoning ability of James Young and Aaron Harrison to make long jump shots, you have one of the nation’s most potent offenses. Nobody has ever accused this Kentucky team of lacking talent, that’s for sure. The only thing it had been missing was cohesiveness and Calipari has molded this group together in fine fashion during this incredible NCAA Tournament run.
The Wildcats will enjoy a multitude of match-up advantages in this game, beginning with its length in the backcourt. Kentucky starts three 6’6” players at the one through three positions while Wisconsin’s tallest guard is the 6’3” Josh Gasser. The Wildcats have defended the three-point line rather well all year long and that length is going to be an asset against a Badgers team that loves to shoot the three. If Wisconsin can’t get many shots to fall from deep, it will have to look inside where it will face the nightmare of Randle, Poythress and a confident Johnson. There is a reason they play the games but, on paper at least, Wisconsin could have a very difficult time offensively in this game.
For Bo Ryan’s Badgers, they have one weapon Kentucky does not and that is the seven-footer Frank Kaminsky. “Frank the Tank” can stretch a defense like no other big man could as he can score in the low block or take you outside and pop a three in your face (37.8 percent three-point shooter). Will any of Kentucky’s interior players be comfortable coming out to the arc to guard the Wisconsin big man? That’s unlikely, and even if they do, they could very easily be too slow and late in closing out. Given what could be major Wisconsin problems elsewhere on the offensive end, this is a match-up Ryan and his staff must exploit. Kaminsky is going to have to have a big game if Gasser, Ben Brust and/or Traevon Jackson happen to struggle.
Both of these teams are highly efficient offensively but the game could come down to defense and possessions. Kentucky will look to take advantage of the offensive glass, where it ranks first in rebounding percentage. Wisconsin really struggles to grab offensive rebounds but the Badgers are among the nation’s best at holding on to the ball and not turning it over. That will prevent the Wildcats from getting out in transition and also help Wisconsin offset what is almost surely to be a rebounding disadvantage. Basketball is a possession game and whichever one of these two teams gets more possessions should win the game. Both are remarkably similar in their efficiency profiles despite being radically different in personnel. While Wisconsin could certainly find a way to overcome some match-up issues, talent is often the deciding factor in a possession game at the highest level. In this case, that favors Kentucky.
The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky