NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.07.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 7th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

  • Kentucky entered the NCAA Tournament unranked, but the Wildcats now find themselves playing for their second national championship in the last three years. With all the blows it took this season, it’s incredible that Kentucky is still playing. ”It’s nuts,” [coach John] Calipari said. “We’re still standing.”
  • With Final Fours at three different programs and on the fringe of his second National Championship, Kentucky coach John Calipari has a shot to cement himself as arguably the best coach in the game right now.
  • Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein will be on the sidelines tonight, but he’s trying his best to accept his new role as a coach/cheerleader. He added, ”I think that’s kind of my role now: staying in somebody’s ear. When you see something, make sure you let them know. It could help them. If they take the advice, cool. That’s really all I can do.”
  • Starting five freshmen, the similarities between Kentucky and Michigan’s Fab Five are uncanny. Coach John Calipari sees the similarities between his team and the Fab Five not in appearance, but rather in the manner that both teams handle themselves. ”What they did and how they came together, anything you ever watch on that [the Fab Five], can’t you just feel the brotherhood?” Calipari said. “These guys are the same way. They’re fighting for each other. They closed ranks as things got ugly. They were there for each other.”
  • It’s been a wild road for Kentucky, and not even Coach Calipari can know what is coming next. However, what he does know is that his team can perform when it really counts. ”Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win,” Calipari said.

Connecticut

  • UConn All-American Shabazz Napier  added another honor to his long list: the 2014 Bob Cousy Award for the Nation’s best point guard.
  • Florida was arguably a better all-around team that UConn, but the Huskies excecuted a brilliant strategy to shut down the Gators. Behind its “Ace of Spades” strategy, UConn harassed Florida star Scottie Wilbekin and held him to just 4 points. In describing the his game plan, UConn coach Kevin Ollie kept it simple: ”We wanted to take him [Wilbekin] out.”
  • Kemba Walker led the way during UConn’s 2011 National Championship run, but now it’s Shabazz Napier’s turn. Napier may be his own man, but there’s no doubt he wants to end his career the same way Walker did. ”A lot of comparisons are going to be thrown around. I’m not going to shy away from it. But at the end of the day, I’m not him. I want to do what he did and win the championship, but we’re walking our own path. We all want to get to the same promised land.”
  • Check out some of the anecdotes that UConn players gave about their leader Shabazz Napier.
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie has a long way to go if he wants to measure up to his predecessor, Jim Calhoun, and his three National Championships, but winning tonight would be a good way to start creating his own legacy. “I’m not trying to be Coach Calhoun; I can’t fill those shoes,” Ollie said. “But I am trying to be the best Kevin Ollie I can be, and that’s what I am trying to do each and every day.”

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Circle of March: Championship Monday Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2014

From 340 teams a month ago to just two remaining. Kentucky and Connecticut will tip it off tonight in the unlikeliest of championship games, but the beauty of March Madness is that the unpredictable is often the only predictable thing. It’s been five weeks since we debuted this year’s Circle of March, and 338 teams have dropped off in the interim. There’s definitely some magic surrounding this year’s NCAA Tourney, and we’re really starting to wonder if the position of the “C” somewhat randomly in the eye of the Circle has some supernatural meaning. We’ll find out soon; the rest of Monday  can’t pass quickly enough — let’s get this thing started!

circlemarch_4_6Eliminated From National Title Contention (04.07.14)

  • Florida
  • Wisconsin

Morning Five: 04.07.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 7th, 2014

morning5

  1. The national title game is set for tonight and we feel fairly confident in saying that nobody saw this one coming on Selection Sunday. Connecticut proved that its victory over Florida in December was no fluke as they beat the Gators by a surprisingly large margin. In the second semifinal, Kentucky continued its goal of giving every single person in the state of Kentucky a heart attack with its fourth straight nail-bitter as they beat Wisconsin by one thanks to yet another late three-pointer by Aaron Harrison. So now we find ourselves in the strange situation of watching two of the most prominent programs in college basketball play for the title as a #7 and #8 seed.
  2. For the sake of Wake Forest fans we hope their new administration got it right with their decision to hire Danny Manning. Manning is best known for leading carrying Kansas to 1988 NCAA title and his time in the NBA, but he also has ties to North Carolina as he went there for high school before a move to Kansas that would have made Twitter explode if it happened today. Manning has coached at Tulsa for two years leading the team to the NCAA Tournament despite losing several players to transfer when he took the job. Manning certainly has a big enough name to get the attention of recruits (or at least their coaches), but the question is whether he can make Winston-Salem a destination for top recruits in an increasingly competitive ACC.
  3. It did not take Ohio very long to move on from the Jim Christian era as they announced the hiring of North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips over the weekend. Phillips compiled a 134-84 record in seven seasons at North Dakota State including two NCAA appearances (2009 and 2014) and one NCAA Tournament victory (this year). Outside of the on-court success Phillips had his push for a bigger and better job was undoubtedly helped by his time serving as the director of basketball operations at Wisconsin under Bo Ryan and his personality that made him a media darling during the opening weekend (you can be sure that his celebration after North Dakota State’s win over Oklahoma win be included in “One Shining Moment” tonight).
  4. It appears that the new target for the public’s ire with regard to unreasonable transfer restrictions will be Nevada based on their limits for Cole Huff‘s transfer. Huff is certainly a solid player as he averaged 12.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season as a sophomore, but we do not understand why a school would restrict his movement so much. Huff is prohibited from transferring to any Mountain West, West Coast, or Pac-12 school as well as any schools that are on Nevada’s scheduled this coming season. So essentially Huff, who is from California, is prohibited from transferring to a school in the Pacific or Mountain time zones. To a degree we can understand limiting a transfer if the school feels like some tampering took place, but this seems excessive.
  5. So about that whole unionization movement… Kain Colter might have won in court (at least at the first level), but now it appears that the players at Northwestern might not even step up to unionize according to football coach Pat Fitzgerald. One of our issues with Colter’s involvement from the beginning was that he essentially did not have any skin in the game since he had already exhausted his eligibility before coming forward. While a vote not to unionize would not permanently cripple the movement it would be a very ugly public setback and would only serve to reinforce the difficulty any such movement would have. To add to that, Mark Emmert also came out yesterday stating that unionization would be a “grossly inappropriate solution” to the issues that college athletics face. As we said before, this has a very long way to go before we see any significant changes.

Kentucky’s Improbable Journey Rolls On: Three Takeaways

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 6th, 2014

The cardiac ‘Cats did it again. Aaron Harrison continued to make the late-game extraordinary look routine and Kentucky’s unlikely NCAA Tournament run lived to see yet another day. The only thing now standing between the Wildcats and the program’s ninth National Championship is UConn on Monday night, but the #8 seeded Wildcats will be a favorite to knock off the Huskies and complete the six-game sweep. With an eye towards Monday night, here are three quick takeaways from Kentucky’s semifinal victory over Wisconsin.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Will Play For The Program’s Ninth National Title On Monday Night

  1. James Young was aggressive and effective attacking the basket. Young is far from a one-dimensional player, but with more three-point attempts than two-point attempts to his name this season, there have been times when the freshman’s role has been reduced to that of a jump shooter, almost exclusively. This was not the case against the Badgers. Young scored a game-high 17 points, and only three were earned from behind the arc. Nine of his 11 field goal attempts came from two-point range, and Young showed off a more varied offensive game in getting into the lane often and to the free throw stripe almost as frequently (he went 6-of-7 on free throws). His floor-stretching ability will again be crucial on Monday night, but a Young capable of manufacturing points in different ways is a scary proposition moving forward.
  2. Alex Poythress may never be the player everyone hoped he would be when he arrived in Lexington, but he has become a key role player on this team. Poythress played 29 minutes last night, had eight points (4-of-4 FG) and seven rebounds, and even did a nice job defending Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky when called upon. His offensive game is still unrefined, but as an athletic energy guy off the bench who can guard almost every position, Poythress has real value for the Willie Cauley-Stein-less ‘Cats. Expect another heavy dose of the sophomore on Monday night, as he would appear to be a perfect defensive match-up for UConn’s DeAndre Daniels. Read the rest of this entry »

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.06.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 6th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

  • Yet again, Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison advanced the Wildcats with a late three-pointer. Harrison also hit the game-winning three in the Elite Eight against Michigan.
  • With Kentucky’s big win last night, the Wildcats will meet UConn in what is definitely an “unlikely title game.” With Kentucky as an 8-seed and UConn as a 7-seed, this is the all-time highest combined seed total in the National Championship Game.
  • They love their basketball in Lexington, and the students were sure to celebrate after their Wildcats reached their second championship game in the past three years.
  • Kentucky has gone from one of the most frustrating teams in Wildcats history to one of the most loved. Especially considering how this season went until March, winning it all would be incredible for the Wildcats. ”It makes me feel good, because last year we were considered one of the worst teams that ever came through Kentucky,” [sophomore Willie] Cauley-Stein said. “Having to be here through the worst and then coming out on top as the best would be crazy.”
  • The Harrison Twins got (and deserved) a ton of credit for Kentucky’s run to the National Title Game, but coach John Calipari is looking at another freshman to step up on Monday. The leading scorer on Saturday night with 17 points, James Young could be the X-factor for the Wildcats going forward. “James Young has had 25-point games, which I’ll predict he’ll have in this Monday night’s game,” Calipari said.

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How Connecticut Advanced to the National Championship Game

Posted by Walker Carey on April 6th, 2014

Seven-seed Connecticut completed its incredible run to the National Championship game by defeating favored Florida, 63-53, in Saturday night’s first national semifinal. The following are three factors that led to the Huskies advancing to its fourth appearance in the title tilt since 1999.

DeAndre Daniels is Taking the Challenge Upon Himself

DeAndre Daniels is Taking the Challenge Upon Himself

  1. DeAndre Daniels has picked the right time to play the best basketball of his career. The junior forward had a nice regular season, averaging 13.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, but there were several times when he failed to produce when Connecticut needed his production. The most notable of Daniels’ poor games were in a January 8 loss to Louisville where he scored just three points on 1-of-9 shooting, and in a February 23 loss to SMU when he finished with just six points on 2-of-10 shooting. Since the NCAA Tournament has began, though, Daniels has shown those phantom nights are things of the past. In the Huskies’ overtime victory over Saint Joseph’s in the round of 64, the junior turned in 18 key points on a very efficient 6-of-11 shooting. In the Huskies’ next win over Iowa State, Daniels was the best player on the floor and his 27 points and 10 rebounds were instrumental in helping Connecticut fend off a late Cyclones run. After a steady 12-point, eight-rebound effort in the Elite Eight victory over Michigan State, Daniels again showed he can be the best player on the floor in Connecticut’s stunning semifinal victory over Florida. He finished with 20 points and 10 boards, while being part of a strong defensive effort that held the Gators to just 53 points on 38.8 percent shooting. It is completely unexpected that Kevin Ollie’s squad will be playing for the national title on Monday night, but considering how good Daniels has been in this Tournament, it makes a lot more sense. If the junior can turn in another game-changing effort Monday, there is no reason to think the Huskies will not cut down the nets at the end of the night. Read the rest of this entry »

Florida’s Dream Season Ends With Final Four Loss to Connecticut

Posted by Walker Carey on April 6th, 2014

One-seed Florida entered the NCAA Tournament as one of several favorites to cut down the nets in North Texas. The Gators had not lost a game since December 2 and had completed a perfect run through the SEC regular season and conference tournament. After a South Region series of games where Billy Donovan’s squad fairly easily dispatched Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Dayton, the Gators’ winning streak stood at 30. Unfortunately for Billy Donovan’s club, their winning ways ended in a 63-53 national semifinal loss to seven-seed Connecticut. The following are three thoughts on a tremendous Florida season that ended a game sooner than expected.

Florida Faltered Tonight But Should Look Back on this Season WIth Heads Held High

Florida Faltered Tonight But Should Look Back on this Season WIth Heads Held High

  1. While the loss to Connecticut will overshadow it, Florida still had an outstanding season. The 30-game winning streak turned in by the Gators before last night’s loss to Connecticut was rightfully one of the top stories of the year in college basketball. Billy Donovan’s senior-laden squad that was led so brilliantly by point guard Scottie Wilbekin flawlessly ran through the SEC with little resistance. A most impressive part of Florida winning all 21 of its games against SEC opponents is that in doing so, the Gators bested preseason number one and fellow Final Four qualifier, Kentucky, three times. This loss to Connecticut will likely be how many choose to define Florida’s season, but that is an unfair notion, because what the Gators were able to accomplish leading up to Saturday was nothing short of magnificent. Read the rest of this entry »

Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 74, #2 Wisconsin 73

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

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Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

Aaron Harrison, Redux.

  1. Stone. Cold. Aaron. Harrison. Wow, just wow. Every time you think that these Cats have run out of lives, they just continue to make just enough plays, often in astonishing fashion, to survive and advance. One Wildcat in particular — freshman guard Aaron Harrison — has taken the notion of clutch to a whole new level. One week after drilling a long contested three to send the Wildcats to the Final Four, he drilled another from very near the same spot to push his team into a National Championship game that few would have anticipated several weeks ago. After the game, he said that he didn’t feel like he has a clutch gene, but we’d beg to differ. The fact of the matter is that Harrison, along with many of these Kentucky kids, are supremely confident in their gifts, which gives them the requisite swagger to both take and make these big shots.
  2. Calipari’s Tweak Has Worked. For any number of reasons, whatever Calipari and his staff were doing for the first three-quarters of this season only marginally worked. The Wildcats only had one five-game winning streak all season long, and that was from mid-November to early December against the likes of Robert Morris, UT-Arlington, Cleveland State, Eastern Michigan and Providence (average KenPom rank = #131). Kentucky’s current five-game winning streak includes wins over Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin (average KenPom rank = #13). Even accounting for a four-month lapse in time from those games, it’s not like the Wildcats set the world on fire in the SEC either, with a 12-6 league mark. Since the postseason began, though, Calipari has seemed to successfully remove the pressure from the heads of his kids by simplifying the game for each of them at an individual level and referring to sorcery and magic to keep the media at bay. No matter the reason, it’s worked and it’s still working. After all of the ups and downs throughout the season, Kentucky finds itself exactly in the position that many expected before the realities of a long and growth-filled regular season came to pass. Calipari is many, many things, but his best attribute is simply getting players to believe.
  3. Wisconsin is Crushed, But Has No Reason To Hang Its Head. The Badgers did everything required to win this game, as it held a two-point lead with six seconds left against a team running an isolation play for a mediocre shooter beyond the three-point line. In most scenarios, Bo Ryan’s team walks away with a win there and we’re not talking about the Wisconsin players being crushed (and they were absolutely heartbroken, make no mistake about that). But considering that Ryan’s program made the leap this season by getting to his first Final Four and eschewing some of the (deserving) reputation that the Badgers were a defense-only grind-it-out team, he is poised to start making these events more frequently. Hopefully tonight’s game, where the Badgers proved it could go toe to toe offensively with a boatload of NBA prospects, will help to combat some of that perception. Even better for Wisconsin, Ryan expects everyone except for Ben Brust back next season. Expect a top five national spot in the 2014-15 preseason polls for the Badgers.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 63, #1 Florida 53

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Calhoun

Former Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun Was All Smiles After the Game

  1. Tale of Two First Halves. The tone for this game was set in the first half, with Florida running out to a seemingly dominant 16-4 lead with 10 minutes gone. At that time, the Gators looked nothing less than dominant on both ends of the floor — bigger, stronger, and methodically having their way with the Huskies. The problem was that the lead needed to be bigger than it was, because from the 8:49 point of the first half UConn closed to take a 25-22 halftime lead and kept it up to ultimately double up one of the nation’s best defensive teams by a margin of 59-37 the rest of the game. UConn did it by making some timely shots, of course — DeAndre Daniels’ pair of early threes in particular — but where the Huskies were really able to stifle the Gators was in completely shutting down Florida’s starting backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier (3-of-12 FG for seven points). The backcourt duo had essentially taken turns leading Florida offensively through the South Region, but without either capable of getting anything going tonight, it was left to Patric Young (19/5) and Casey Prather (15/6) to carry the load. In a game where points were at a premium, the Gators’ defense wasn’t going to be able to manufacture enough to compensate for a rough 39 percent overall and 1-of-10 from three shooting performance.
  2. On Florida’s Go-To Guy. With 49 seconds remaining, the game was all but final when Florida’s senior leader, Scottie Wilbekin, shot a horrifically off three-point airball that caused a shot clock review. There were a couple of notable moments related to that miss. First, it iced the game for the Huskies and all of the Gators’ body language afterward clearly exhibited that fact. But it also served to illustrate why Florida spent all year gambling in its reliance on a crafty, steady, solid point guard like Wilbekin to become its bona fide go-to guy. Billy Donovan’s team had a magnificent college basketball season, ending a 30-game winning streak with a 36-3 record and a loss in the Final Four — there’s no shame anywhere in those numbers. But as he noted after tonight’s game, “Given our talent level, we played way better than our potential.” And he’s right, with Wilbekin as Exhibit A to that notion. The NCAA Tournament is a cruel mistress, and many players far better than him have been eliminated much earlier than the Final Four, but it’s really difficult for a really good collegian with no professional prospects to have so many good offensive performances in a row (against high-quality competition).
  3. The Huskies Won Without a Huge Night From #shabazzketball. So if you were told before the game that Shabazz Napier would have a pedestrian 12-point, six-assist performance in the Final Four, there’s no way that you pick the Huskies to win, right? That’s what is somewhat scary about how well some of the other UConn players are performing right now, particularly DeAndre Daniels. In a low-possession game (57), a quiet night from Napier is perfectly fine so long as Kevin Ollie also gets 11 points from Niels Giffey, 13 from Ryan Boatright, and 20 from Daniels, all coming in an efficient manner. What he can’t have is guys spraying wild shots all over the place, and I for one can’t remember more than a couple of questionable takes from Ollie’s group all night. The proof is in the pudding, too — the Huskies hit 77 percent of their foul shots, 61 percent of their twos, 41 percent of their threes, and lit up the Gators’ defense for 1.11 points per possession. That kind of full-team performance is how you beat #1 seeds.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

  • With five freshman starters, Kentucky came into this season ranked #1 despite losing in the first round of the NIT last year. Though the Wildcats were, at one point, arguably the biggest disappointment in college basketball, they have righted the ship. This weekend, the world will be able to see if Kentucky really deserved that preseason #1 ranking.
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari claims that a “tweak” before the SEC Tournament helped create the force that has been Kentucky basketball over the past month. He won’t say what it is, but insists that there was some change made. ”What I told these guys after I saw what it did, I just said, ‘You know what? I screwed this up. Make me look good,’” Calipari said. “And they have. The media doesn’t have enough basketball savvy to figure it out, so …”
  • Instead of “one-and-done,” Calipari is trying to change Kentucky’s mantra to “succeed and proceed.” He doesn’t support the former because he doesn’t see his program as a one-year pitstop before the NBA. As Calipari puts it, ”Every player that I’ve recruited, and they will tell you, I say the same thing: ‘Don’t plan on coming to school for one year. You make a huge mistake. But if after one year you have options, that will be up to you and your family. You plan on being in school two or three years. But if after one year you have options, that’s up to you and your family. Enjoy the experience, enjoy the college environment, because the rest of it is work, it’s not about family, it’s about business.’”
  • For most #8 seeds, a Final Four run is a Cinderella Story that will live on in that program’s history forever. For Kentucky, however, its run to the Final Four is simply “tough” rather than miraculous.
  • Texas natives, the Harrison Twins have been the key catalysts for Kentucky’s run back into their home state. Though the Twins seemed immature at times this season, Calipari believed in them in part because of their high character. ”The Harrisons, good family, mom and dad raised them and did right,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They were coached, they are skilled. They just had to be challenged in a lot of different ways that they had never been challenged.”
  • Julius Randle’s NBA draft stock slipped a bit partly because his team wasn’t successful for much of the season, but through Kentucky’s run to the Final Four, Randle is proving that he should be a slam dunk top five NBA Draft pick.

Wisconsin 

  • Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has one of the best systems in college basketball, and is known for his ability to develop players, particularly big men. “Coach Ryan has a system and he recruits people into his system that are going to take their four years to grow, physically and mentally, into that system,” [Wisconsin big man Frank]Kaminsky said. “By the time you’re ready to play you’re going to be effective in that system. It comes with a lot of frustrations and a lot of ups and downs, but he really demands the best out of every one of his players. That’s happened with me and I’ve been able to grow into this person and player that I am today.”
  • Wisconsin is often not intimidating and light-hearted, but the Badgers bring it when it’s time to play. ”Sometimes, we kind of fail that eye test,” [Frank] Kaminsky said. “But it doesn’t matter when the game starts. It matters how we play. … People can say we look like this and we look like that — we look like a bunch of white guys — but it doesn’t matter at the end of the day.”
  • Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson has a father who dominated the Big Ten in the late 80s/early 90s. However, the younger Jackson is creating his own legacy by achieving something that his father never did: a Final Four.
  • Even though Kentucky enters today’s game as the 8-seed, is Wisconsin the underdog? With a piping-hot Kentucky team, this may be the case.
  • Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky is big and “goofy“, but the seven-footer has been the key to the Badgers’ success. He was only a role player over the past two seasons, but this year he made huge strides. ”I let a lot of things faze me and get frustrated all the time,” he said. “I really wasn’t doing the best that knew I could do. I knew I had to grow up — physically and mentally. It took me a couple of years.”
  • Though Wisconsin is often characterized as unathletic and slow, it believes that it has the athleticism to hang with Kentucky. Even though the Badgers don’t exactly jump out of the gym, they’re still athletic in their own eyes. ”Athleticism is defined in a lot of ways, OK?” Ryan said. “Eye-hand coordination, jumping ability, strength, being able to hit a baseball, being able to drive a race car. When you say ‘athletic,’ this group we have is athletic in this sense: they have good perception and spatial skills for being a good offensive team.”

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Final Four

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 4th, 2014

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#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.

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Napier Has His Eyes Set on Another Title (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

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.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Florida Gators

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn have already released. Today: Florida.

Back on December 2, college basketball pollsters would have told you that Florida was the worst of the four teams still standing in this NCAA Tournament. #12 UConn beat the 15th-ranked Gators that night, and both Kentucky (#3) and Wisconsin (#8) rested comfortably among the top 10 teams in the nation. Things have changed quite significantly in the months since. As a result of 30 consecutive victories since that loss in Storrs, Florida now enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, while their three Final Four mates have lost a combined 24 times since the Gators have. It’s been a relentless and astounding string of success for Billy Donovan’s team, but the Gators know that their winning streak will mean far less if it fails to reach 32 games. The ultimate validation is available in North Texas, and Florida appears poised and ready to snatch it.

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Florida, picked to finished second in the SEC in the league preseason poll, began the season with a rather discombobulated roster. Scottie Wilbekin started the year suspended, Chris Walker was ineligible, and newcomers Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and DeVon Walker all missed time due to injuries. There were even times when Billy Donovan didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage five-on-five in practice, which made the Gators’ 11-2 non-conference record (which included victories over Kansas, Memphis, and Florida State) a good, if not great, beginning to the season. But Florida was just getting started. With Casey Prather emerging out of nowhere as an All-American candidate and Wilbekin shedding character issues to become one of the best two-way floor generals in the country, Florida ripped off 21 straight victories to seize the SEC regular season and Tournament crowns, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Not everything was easy – five of those SEC wins came by five points or fewer – but the Gators posted the most impressive regular season in college basketball this season. They were rightfully awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and entered the Big Dance on a 26-game winning streak.

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