…And Then There Were Four

Four teams punched their tickets to the glorious Final Four this past weekend. Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky and Wisconsin headline this year’s esteemed teams that are left competing for the coveted national championship. Making it to the Final Four is no small accomplishment, but the greatest glory lies in bringing home the trophy and raising a championship banner at the home court. Which team is going to raise that banner this year?

Connecticut boasts a stellar senior point guard, Shabazz Napier, who has led this team from what seemed to be a program on the decline back into the national title picture. Napier’s work during the tournament is that of a man on a mission. Leading a No. 7 seed going into the tournament, Napier wasn’t content with besting No. 2 Villanova for a Sweet 16 berth, nor was he satisfied when his team beat third-seeded Iowa State. He wasn’t even all that surprised when the team beat heavily favored fourth-seeded Michigan State. Simply put, Napier expected this result and he expects to continue playing hard until the title trophy is handed to him on Monday night. But UConn’s success isn’t the work of a lone veteran. Junior forward Deandre Daniels has been the main reason for the Huskies’ berth in the Final Four. Daniels has powered this team with 17 points per game in the tournament and provided some monumental support in the paint both offensively and defensively. His presence in the paint effectively shut down a high-powered offense in Michigan State and can shut down Florida, which has many talented big men. If UConn’s offense can continue to fire on all cylinders behind Napier and Daniels and its defense can effectively shut down Florida’s inside game, then there’s nothing stopping UConn from earning another national title.

Florida has many weapons, boasting a full-court, full-throttle defense that seems impermeable even against the likes of Napier. Expect that defense to continue this weekend. The Gators also boast a strong interior game. Senior center Patric Young is hands down one of the toughest big men Florida has ever retained. Young’s rebounding capabilities and sheer athleticism have seemed to prove too difficult for any team to handle. However, he isn’t a great scorer and Florida lacks a strong leader in scoring on their team, which may prove to be its demise in the tournament. Despite this, Florida has found ways to win and continue its 30-game winning streak despite the obvious scoring flaws. As they say, defense wins championships.

Kentucky as usual boasts one of the most talented teams the NCAA has ever seen. However, despite the strength in talent, the team is quite lean on experience and that has been a major pitfall for them all season. Yet the team finally clicked and is now playing up to its potential talent at the right time. With strong wins over previously undefeated Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan, this team is more than prepared to face yet another challenger in Wisconsin. Experience does not seem to be an issue anymore as this young group is embracing the bright lights and scrutiny. The standout leader and most talented player of this young group is freshman forward Julius Randle who has been a consistent presence for this team throughout the season and in the tournament. Randle’s size allows for him to provide some stellar support in the paint and he is also a strong duo threat, as he has demonstrated his ability to make plenty of outside shots. If the Wildcats can play like experienced veterans, this young group can win the esteemed Kentucky basketball program a ninth championship.

Wisconsin rounds out the Final Four. Seven-foot center Frank Kaminsky leads this squad with his stellar shooting and strong post presence. Kentucky may have matchup problems with Kaminsky, which would give the Badgers an edge over a heavily talented group. Wisconsin can stretch the floor with its signature three-point shooting, which is typically lethal and unstoppable. Though not as heavy on talent as the other three teams left in the tournament, the Badgers are more than capable of beating anyone and winning a rare basketball national championship.

Unsurprisingly, no team in this year’s Final Four is a Cinderella. Each of these teams possesses incredible strengths and troubling weaknesses that can make or break their trip in North Texas this weekend.