Here’s the good news: three of my four picks to make it to the Final Four have made it this far in the tournament.
Here’s the bad news: the team that didn’t, or to be honest, the team I picked to win it all, Wichita State, didn’t even make it to the Sweet 16.
But I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy so I’m looking at it as a batting percentage of .750. Never mind the fact that my bracket has looked like a mess since the first round of the tournament. What’s important is I got three out of the four Final Four teams.
Now that we’re here, though, picking who advances to the championship game becomes a lot trickier. There aren’t any Cinderellas among this bunch anymore; each team is capable of going the distance.
Florida versus UConn
Florida has been the consensus favorite since the whole tournament began so there’s no reason to believe that they’re going to trip up this close to the promised land. They’ve won 30 games in a row. They went 21-0 in the SEC. And they’re defense has been nothing short of a handcuff in the tournament.
But here’s the catch: one of its two losses during the season came against the team its meeting in the Final Four, the University of Connecticut. It would’ve been a lot easier to pick Florida had the loss not happen, but if you’re a Gator fan, you can take comfort knowing that our team only lost on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beating putback floater.
The big question now is can UConn replicate that result now that the stage is as big as it’s ever going to get. Obviously, Napier is the engine that makes the Huskies attack roll. If he can establish a presence early and throughout the game, UConn’s got a chance. It’s more important considering that they’re bigs are still fairly young and lack the requisite experience to really make a difference. Against a Florida team that’s as balanced as any team in the country, Napier and backcourt partner Ryan Boatright need to bring their A-games to the floor. Otherwise, Florida’s depth and experience will win out.
Pick: Florida 68, UConn 59
Wisconsin versus Kentucky
I didn’t pick Kentucky to make it this far because of their youth. Five freshman starters didn’t excite me (it would have if they had a guy like Anthony Davis) so it didn’t seem like the Wildcats were ready for an extended run. Obviously, I was wrong because this Kentucky team is looking more and more like the much ballyhooed squad that was actually the pre-season favorite to win the championship. Kentucky has the advantage of having a whole lot of size, something they’ve parlayed into becoming one of the country’s best offensive rebounding teams.
Against Wisconsin, getting rebounds is just one part of the equation. They also have to deal with the Badgers’ San Antonio Spurs-like offense. Granted, that’s far easier said than done because Wisconsin’s offense is as fluid as it gets. On top of that, they’re a strong-willed team that rarely makes any mistakes.
Forcing turnovers and exerting their athleticism is the key to Kentucky’s success against Wisconsin. If it goes down to execution down the stretch, I doubt Kentucky’s freshman crew has the requisite know-how to contain the Badgers’ attack.
This will be a close game, so I’m rolling with the Badgers to out-execute the Wildcats in the waning minutes of the game.
Pick: Wisconsin 70, Kentucky 65