Friday, April 4, 2014

Altough Unexpected, A Foursome Finale Worthly of this Tournament

It was just three weeks ago when the ferver was a peak, the selection show had started the chaos of who was left home and who had a bad seeding, and Buffet was putting his money where everyone’s mouth was. Now we’re down to just four schools which no one in the world had in their bracket, literally as there are no perfect brackets, but the Final Four will have a little something for everyone including a great finish on Monday Night. South/East National Semi-Final – Florida vs. UCONN When the Huskies lost to Louisville by 33 points less than a month ago they were written out of the post-season script by every sports writer in the country and Kevin Ollie was on the hot seat as the successor to legend Jim Calhoun. Amid the academic sanctions, player transfers, and 3rd place finish in the American Conference, the chances of the program returning to prominence seemed bleak. However in a script that Hollywood would reject as too unbelievable, the Huskies were written back into the plot after three consecutive wins over top 5 seeds including (2) Villanova, (3) Iowa State, and (4) Michigan State the sexy pick to win the region when the brackets were tallied and unbusted. Of course, they don’t see themselves as Cinderella Fellas and certainly don’t think they’re Gator bait as one of the two schools to hand Florida a loss this season, back in December by 9 points (the Gators last), there is no fear there and perhaps that’s what will be necessary to take the overall top seed down. Across the isle the Gators are playing like the overall top-seed should, winning all games en route to the Final Four by more than double-digits while not yielding 70 points to anyone, UCLA coming the closest by scoring 68 points and losing by 11. They also are finally healthy and playing their best basketball of the season, two major components of schools that have eventually cut down the nets. The lone remaining top seed, Florida’s strong guard play and senior leadership have made the favorite among Vegas prognosticators as the team standing on the ladder come Monday night and for good reason. If you think about the two games they lost, both with key injuries to starters including the loss to UCONN where Scottie Wilbekin left the game with 3:10 to play while it was a one-possession game, and had to watch UCONN win in the final seconds with Shabazz Napier scoring 26 and stealing all the headlines. The way my bracket was blown out I would never wager picking the Final Four but I would wager that the Florida Gators and head coach Billy “the kid” Donovan haven’t forgotten that game and will come out with more than a trip to the finals on their mind. West/Mid-West National Semi-Final – Wisconsin vs. Kentucky West/Mid-West National Semi-Final – Wisconsin vs. Kentucky What can you say other than ‘da kids are all grownz up’? They have become the quintessential hope for every fan of a program in the country for years to come. Where suddenly the light comes on, and the kids suddenly start playing to their potential and moreover, playing together and reaching their full potential just as the tournament tipped off. Well, actually it began with a one-point loss in the SEC Championship to Florida a school they may see again on Monday night but they had better not start looking ahead. If I was a UK fan I would hope that the well didn’t run dry in the regionals as they certainly didn’t shoot that well from beyond the arch during the regular season (only 39%) and suddenly they’re a treat from outside in the dance, hence the game winner as time expired against Michigan. However the rub is that the games they won en route to Cowboy Stadium were against teams that played a similar style in regards to pace and Wisconsin, much like their Rose Bowl win, will try to change the game to a slow grind out pace that favors the methodical and if they can slow down the game the kids from the blue grass state may become fish out of water. So how did Wisconsin sneak up on everyone as a number 2 seed? Just the way we just described the way they hope the game would go, it’s not sexy but effective. In fact, the Badgers are 92nd in the country in points per game, 261st in rebounds, 216th in assist, and 93rd in field goal percentage, so how are they in the Final Four? They’re the NC State, the Butler, the school in hindsight that you wonder how they got there. But much like NC State and Butler if you try to beat them at their game you’ll find yourself in a dogfight. The Badgers have great inside play and timely shooting from beyond the arch and like most great tournament games this will be a matchup of styles and who can enforce their will. If Wisconsin can manage to slow this down and neutralize the athletic advantage that the Cats have we could be looking at another upset for the ages.