These last two weeks have been a blast. Now the real fun begins.
This is without a doubt one of the best NCAA Tournaments in recent memory. From Kentucky’s incredible game with Wichita State in the Sweet 16, to Wisconsin’s wild finish against Arizona in the Elite 8, Mercer’s first round upset over Duke and Dayton’s incredible run to the Elite 8, the Madness kept on coming and it didn’t slow down at all throughout these last two weeks.
From 68, the dust has settled and we are down to the Final Four teams. #1 Florida, #2 Wisconsin, #7 UConn and #8 Kentucky will square off next weekend in North Texas for a chance to bring a National Championship back to campus.
Check out the recaps of their Elite 8 games and what to look forward to for the teams that made it to the Final Four.
#1 Florida 62, #11 Dayton 52
Credit must be given to this Dayton squad that no one believed would make it past the first weekend of March Madness. They put on a show by attacking the rim, playing with confidence and displaying great defense to take down college basketball powerhouses #6 Ohio State, #3 Syracuse and #10 Stanford on their road to the Elite 8. Dayton’s Cinderella story ended short as the Florida Gators picked up the 10 point victory to advance to the Final Four.
SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbeken led the way for Florida with 23 points. The Gators got the Elite 8 monkey off of their backs as they lost in the Elite 8 round in the past three seasons. They also won their 30th straight game and will be the heavy favorite going into next weekend.
In order for the Gators to win a national title, they will need their leaders Wilbeken and Patric Young to keep delivering huge performances. The Gators have won dominated this season with their defense, fast break opportunities, rebounding and all-around scoring efforts across the board. Gators coach Billy Donovan will need to keep his guys fired up and confident – we doubt he will have any problems doing that with a team that has won 30 straight.
Florida will face off against the #7 UConn Huskies on Saturday in the Final Four.
#7 UConn 60, #2 Michigan State 54
How about those Huskies?
Once again, UConn was in familiar territory at Madison Square Garden last night in the Elite 8. Senior Shabazz Napier put on the backpack and gave his best Kemba Walker impression as he carried the Huskies to victory over the tough Michigan State Spartans. Napier finished the game with 25 points and this will be his second visit to the Final Four after making it his freshman year in 2011.
Second year head coach and Jim Calhoun study Kevin Ollie is now 4-0 in the NCAA Tournament. His UConn team scrapped with the Spartans every possession and they had the will to win. This game went back and forth as both teams threw haymaker after haymaker, but Napier knocked down the final three free throws to seal the victory for the Huskies.
UConn is going into the Final Four as underdogs just as they have through the entire tournament and will face the #1 Florida Gators. They will need more heroics from Napier, along with major contributions from Ryan Boatwright and DeAndre Daniels if they hope to take down the #1 overall seed.
#8 Kentucky, #2 Michigan
Kentucky starts five freshman and they continue to prove that age is nothing but a number.
These guys might not have the experience, but they possess the talent and heart needed to win a national championship. Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison hit the biggest shot of the tournament as he knocked the go ahead three pointer with 3 seconds left in the game to put the Wildcats up 3 for the win. Kentucky advances to the Final Four for the third time in the last four years.
This Wildcat squad filled with freshman was picked preseason #1. A lot of people didn’t think they would live up to the hype as their shaky season progressed. Kentucky is starting to reach their peak at the right time, leaving their mark on March Madness with wins over undefeated #1 Wichita State, defending champs #4 Louisville and the tough #2 Michigan.
Kentucky is the youngest team in the Final Four as literally none of these guys have been here before. They aren’t afraid of the big stage but they will have a tough test against the #2 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday in The Final Four. If Kentucky wants to win a national title, they will need their head coach John Calipari to keep them focused and level headed going into the final weekend of the college basketball season.
#2 Wisconsin 64, #1 Arizona 63
This game came down to the last possession as a questionable out of bounds call almost cost Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan his first trip to the Final Four. Arizona guard Nick Johnson had a chance to tie the game with two seconds on the clock but couldn’t get a shot off in time and the Badgers knocked off top seed Arizona to reach their first Final Four since 2000.
Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminski was the hero of this game as he dropped 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the huge overtime victory. The Badgers are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country with their passing, movement without the ball and shot selections. If they want to win a national title, they will need heroics from Kaminski and more contributions from the rest of the squad. The next leading scorers in their Elite 8 victory added 10 and seven points each.
Wisconsin will face off against the #8 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in the Final Four.
-Patrick Hazel (@pattywack25)