Insider’s guide to Final Four


The invitation to this year’s Final Four seemed to have specific rules: No upstarts or Cinderellas. Big boys only.

Yes, we’re well aware that Kentucky was a No. 8 seed and UConn was a 7. But c’mon. These are two power programs with storied histories, each with a championship under their belt within the past four seasons.

Following a string of NCAA tournaments with mid-major party crashers, the Final Four is going back to the big time with Florida and Wisconsin joining the Wildcats and Huskies in North Texas. We’ve got a rundown of what to look for:

THE TEAMS

Florida: The top overall seed in the NCAA tournament has played like it by extending its winning streak to 30 games.

Kentucky: John Calipari’s latest group of one-and-dones needed a little time to get going. Once the roll started, no one has been able to stop it.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are feisty, fundamentally sound and one of those teams opponents hate to play.

UConn: The Huskies won the 2011 behind Kemba Walker. Shabazz Napier is the one-man gang this time.

THE STARS

• Shabazz Napier, UConn. A 6-foot-1 point guard who can do it all and had a great mentor in Kemba Walker.

• Julius Randle, Kentucky. The projected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick is big, athletic and often unstoppable.

• Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. When he’s hitting his 3-pointers, this 7-footer is all but unguardable.

• Scottie Wilbekin, Florida. From being asked to transfer by his own coach to becoming one of college basketball’s best closers.

THE OTHERS

• Patrick Young, Florida. The Gators’ big man is like a linebacker in basketball shorts.

• Aaron Harrison, Kentucky. Hit the winning jumper against Michigan despite struggling with his shot. Has a twin brother who’s not bad, either.

• Sam Dekker, Wisconsin. He’s scrappy, versatile and a good shooter — a perfect fit for the Badgers.

• Ryan Boatwright, UConn. Napier’s backcourt sidekick can shoot and has become a point-guard stopper on defense.

THE COACHES

• Billy Donovan, Florida. So much for not being able to get the Gators to the Final Four without NBA-ready players. Might be the best coaching job of his career.

• Calipari, Kentucky. The slick coach with the designer suits might irritate some, but he sure can recruit players — and win games.

• Bo Ryan, Wisconsin. His has been the feel-good story so far, making the Final Four for the first time as a coach after taking his late father, Butch, every year since 1976 as a birthday gift.

• Kevin Ollie, UConn. Thrust into a difficult situation following the retirement of Jim Calhoun and NCAA sanctions last season. Managed it all incredibly well, particularly for a first-time head coach.

NUMBERS

0: Points by Kentucky’s Marcus Lee had in the 10 games prior to scoring 10 against Michigan in the Elite Eight.

0.000051: Percentage of people (612 total) who accurately predicted the Final Four out of 11 million entries in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.

2: SEC teams (Kentucky and Florida) in the Final Four out of three that made it into the NCAA tournament.

3: Teams that Kentucky beat in the bracket that were in the Final Four a year ago (Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan).

4: Times UConn’s men’s and women’s teams have reached the Final Four in the same season, most of any school.

8: Years since there were no repeat Final Four teams before this season.

FAMOUS ALUMNI

Connecticut: Actress Meg Ryan, physicist David Lee, actor Ron Palillo (Horshack!), screenwriter/producer Jeremy Leven.

• Florida: Actress Faye Dunaway, Nobel Prize winners Marshall Nirenberg and Robert Grubbs, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, Wendy’s owner Dave Thomas.

Kentucky: Actress Ashley Judd, Sen. Mitch McConnell, astronaut Story Musgrave, Nobel Prize winner William Lipscomb.

Wisconsin: Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, Vice President Dick Cheney, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, actor Don Ameche, singers Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs.

 

Rules for posting comments