Joe Leathersich: Florida Gators
Ignore all the hype about UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky being in the Final Four. This tournament – as it was when it started – is Florida’s to lose.
Am I happy to say that? Not particularly, but you have to pick your battles. I will just ignore the fact that Billy Donovan looks like a used car salesman.
I wanted to pick the Huskies for this but couldn’t pull the trigger. I’m pretty happy for the American Athletic Conference for making the Final Four in its first year of existence, but UConn is missing one crucial piece for me: Kemba Walker.
I don’t mean that literally, obviously. Shabazz Napier is nice, but he’s not Walker. Remember that crossover against Pittsburgh to secure the Big East title in 2011? And the subsequent run in the tournament? I do. But I don’t envision all that happening again.
For this reason, the Gators will be crowned the champions. They have been at the top of the poll all year and I see no reason why that should stop now.
When you think about it, however, the real winner is the viewer. March Madness is the best time of year, bar none. I’m going to get chills when “One Shining Moment” comes on.
Nick Preller: Kentucky Wildcats
The team that everyone thought was the best squad before the season started will prove that all the experts were right by the end of the tournament.
Of course, I am talking about Kentucky: the preseason top seed and eventual 2014 March Madness champions.
While he isn’t the best-liked coach, John Calipari has shown that he can lead a team to a championship and get the most out of his talented “one and done” freshman.
The star of Kentucky is first-year Julius Randle. The man is a double-double machine, racking up 24 on the year so far. He is a force in the paint and will drive defenses crazy with his physical play.
The scariest part of this team is that they are just starting to play up to their potential. Gone is the team that lost back-to-back games to unranked teams; in is the team that everyone expected them to be. With wins over Michigan and Louisville already, this team is scared of no one and most certainly will be the ones cutting down the nets in Texas.
Mike Eisinger: Wisconsin Badgers
In a season filled with surprises ranging from Mercer becoming my second favorite team to teams actually remembering how to shoot the ball after last season’s air-ball-palooza, no team has been more surprising than the Badgers of Wisconsin. Sure, Wisconsin has always been pretty good during Bo Ryan’s tenure in Madison, but this year’s team is surprising in a different way: they’re not boring anymore.
In contrast to Wisconsin’s typically plodding, passing-oriented offense, these Badgers can play an up-tempo style as evidenced by the nine games that they reached the 80-point mark in this year. They haven’t gotten completely away from their roots, though, as they are more than capable of taking care of the ball and being effective in a low-scoring affair.
With a matchup against Florida in the first round, Wisconsin can take solace in the fact that they have already beaten the Gators once this year. It was early on, for sure, and although Florida has gotten better and emerged as the favorite to win the title, Wisconsin has seen improvement as well, especially from the hottest player in America right now: Frank Kaminsky, who lit up Arizona for 28 points and 11 rebounds in the Elite Eight.
If Wisconsin can unleash Kaminsky again and get some solid play from Ben Brust, Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson, it just may have enough to pull an upset on Saturday April 5; letting them climb into the championship game and cut down the nets at Jerry’s World.
Doug Parks: UConn Huskies
Start loosening your belt because we’re about to get husky.
You heard it here first, UConn is taking home the hardware. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to be easy. Florida is tough as jerky and it’s hard to disagree with those saying the boys from New England have bitten off more than they can chew.
But here’s the thing: UConn has a man by the name of Shabazz “Smooth Jazz” Napier. As of right now, he is singlehandedly dismantling any team foolish enough to get in his way. This guy is a game changer – the rare Scottie Reynolds type that was born to play college ball. You can fully expect another top-tier performance as they edge the top-seeded Gators. (Also worth noting – UConn already handed Florida one of its two losses back in December).
As for Kentucky, the team took a huge hit with the loss of Cauley-Stein. Their luck is going to run out against a down and dirty defensive team like Wisconsin.
So, to recap, we can all look forward to a UConn/Wisconsin final. Here it becomes a bit of a tossup but I give the edge to UConn for the singular reason that Wisconsin only has one player capable of taking over a game – Frank Kaminsky – and this guy has gone hot and cold more times throughout the season than a Katy Perry song.