(1) Florida Gators 36-2 (18-0 SEC)
KenPom: `1 (18 Offense, 1 Defense)
The court is set, the teams have arrived, I'm in Dallas and just had a muffin. 7-seeded UConn and the number 1 overall seed Florida face off tonight in what is both teams' 5th Final Four and second meeting this year. The Huskies are 6 1/2 point underdogs and only have a 20% chance to win according to ESPN's BPI. Having been underdogs in each of the past 3 NCAA tournament games, I think we can all agree to throw these meaningless computer-generated numbers out the window. You put All-American Shabazz Napier, SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin, centaur Patric Young, and two of the winningest programs in the last 15 years on the biggest stage in college basketball, you are sure to get some of the most unpredictable and compelling sport entertainment of the year.
Florida is the best team UConn has faced and will face this year. They are deep, talented, balanced, and experienced. The Gators should have 8 guys see the court on Saturday, including two McDonald All-Americans in point guard Kasey Hill and the freak-athlete Chris Walker along SEC six man of the year 6'8 Dorian Finney-Smith all coming off the bench. Their starting five as balanced as they come. Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II shoot the 3 at almost 40% and 46% respectively, and leading scorer small forward Casey Prather (13.8 ppg) is shooting 60% from the field on the year.
Like UConn, all five positions can rebound the basketball and also like the huskies, Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. What worries me most about this matchup is Florida's ability to change their defensive schemes each time down the floor. The Gators play lock down man-to-man led by the best on-ball defender in the country in Wilbekin, they have a suffocating press that turns 2 point leads into 10 point leads in a matter of seconds, and play zone about 20% of opponents possessions, a possible kryptonite for this Husky team (See Stanford). In what has been future Hall of Famer Billy Donovan's best coaching job to date, only our UConn Huskies stand in the way of another championship.
The two keys to the game for UConn are going to be defense and making shots. It doesn't take a genius basketball mind to realize this, but i digress. If UConn does what it did to Michigan State in the Elite Eight, and what they did was pressure the (insert synonym for fecal matter here) out of them thanks to Ryan Boatright's best game in a Husky uniform and the execution a brilliant game plan by Kevin Ollie limiting Michigan State to 6 points in the paint, then it will be up to UConn's shooters on the other end of the floor to close the game. Shabazz Napier will likely transcend greatness once again, but he cannot take on this Gator team alone. Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, and Lasan Kromah must hit their open shots in order for UConn to move on. Whether its Daniels looking like a future lottery pick, Giffey getting back to his lights-out spot-up days from the AAC tournament, or some timely scoring by committee, the Huskies must continue to rely on their supporting cast for offensive production if they want to play on Monday.
There's a will with this UConn team that is something I don't know if I have seen before. This will is a combination of the pride that comes with wearing "UConn" on their chests, the competitiveness that Kevin Ollie has fostered over this 2 year period of basketball without a post season, and this mutual faith between Napier and his teammates that this team cannot and will not be beaten. It is this will has carried UConn to Dallas, and it is this will that will carry UConn to 9:00 on Monday night.
UConn 70 Florida 68