Four questions about each Final Four team: UConn, Florida, Kentucky and Wisconsin
Still, there are a few questions worth asking about each of the participants at AT&T Stadium this weekend. So we're asking them, four apiece for each Final Four contender, who are presented here in chronological order.
1. Can Shabazz Napier keep doing this?
Given that the senior guard led his team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals during the regular season and has then averaged 23.3 points per game during the NCAA tournament to date, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. Napier has faced stiff backcourt battles for three straight games, against Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State, and been the best player on the court every time.
2. Will Napier get the help he needs?
Florida, UConn's semifinal opponent, now has the nation's No. 1 defense in terms of adjusted efficiency, per kenpom.com, allowing just 88.5 points per 100 possessions. The Huskies won't mind a grind-it-out affair, but someone other than Napier will have to be efficient on offense. The best bet is DeAndre Daniels, who has averaged 17 points per game in the tournament while shooting 50 percent from the floor. Ryan Boatright has also scored in double-figures in all four tournament games, but he has shot just 10-for-29 in his last three games.
3. Will the Huskies hold up on the glass?
Connecticut's defensive rebounding percentage of 67.0 ranks 267th nationally. Its offensive rebounding percentage (30.5) ranks 214th. Florida is top 30 in defensive rebounding percentage and top 50 in offensive rebounding percentage. The Gators aren't incredibly dominant on the boards, but they have enough of an advantage here to severely limit UConn's second chances and create some of their own.
4. Will the energy carry into North Texas?
So far, the Huskies have played in Buffalo and then in the place they described as their “third home,” Madison Square Garden in New York. As expected, a full-throated crowd provided UConn a significant boost in Manhattan last weekend. It won't be nearly the same vibe for Connecticut in spacious AT&T Stadium, so the Huskies won't be able to rely on a heavily partisan crowd if things get rough.
1. How long can this last?
The Gators haven't lost a game since Dec. 2 – perhaps you've heard Connecticut was the team to beat them – and haven't lost all season when they've had their full complement of players. They've won all four of their tournament games by double digits and held off late runs from UCLA and Dayton last weekend, suggesting that success hasn't dulled Florida's edge. But neither has a game come down to one or two possessions in the final minute.
That's a credit to the Gators for not letting it get that far, and also an interesting dynamic to watch for this weekend. Florida has played 10 games this season decided by six points (i.e. a two-possession game) or fewer. It has won eight of them. The only losses were at UConn by one point and at Wisconsin by six points. Both of those teams have joined the Gators in the Final Four. So has Kentucky, which fell to the Gators in their only one-possession game of the past month, a one-point decision on a neutral floor for the SEC championship.
2. Is Casey Prather due?
Prather, the Gators' leading scorer during the regular season, took just 16 shots total in Florida's last three NCAA tournament games, averaging 8.7 points per outing. If he can make a bigger impact in North Texas, it will give the Gators another solution for a stout Connecticut defense.
3. How will Scottie Wilbekin perform against an elite guard?
The SEC player of the year has probably earned the benefit of the doubt, given the big shots he made that carried the Gators past UCLA and Dayton while notching six assists and no turnovers combined in those two games. But Wilbekin will have his hands full trying to guard Napier and Boatright while also taking care of the ball. In Florida's first game against the Huskies this season, Napier went off for 26 points -- including the game-winning buzzer-beater -- and Wilbekin had more turnovers than assists, the only time that's happened to him all year against a non-SEC team.
4. What happens at the line?
Florida shoots 66.7 percent from the free-throw line as a team, a figure that ranks 279th in the nation. In their games against Connecticut, Wisconsin and Kentucky this year they've been even worse, making just 63.9 percent. This team has few flaws and it's probably up to Florida to determine if Florida wins a national title, but it can't let games come down to one or two attempts at the stripe.
1. Will Willie Cauley-Stein be available?
The early indication is that the seven-foot sophomore will not play against Wisconsin on Saturday. Cauley-Stein remained in a walking boot Sunday after hurting his ankle during the Wildcats' Sweet 16 win over Louisville. If he can't play in North Texas, Kentucky will be without its premier rim protector, even though Marcus Lee stepped in to record two blocks against Michigan in the regional final.
2. Can the Wildcats play volleyball?
Kentucky's 552 offensive boards and its offensive rebound percentage of 42.5 both rank first in the country. It hasn't been a bad option for the Wildcats to just throw shots up at the rim and hope their sheer size comes up with a putback chance. Even without Cauley-Stein, Kentucky controlled the glass against the Wolverines, outrebounding them 35-24.
3. Will thy live -- or die -- at the line?
Kentucky has taken more free throws than any team in the country this season (1,101) and gets 26.3 percent of its points at the line, the highest percentage of any of the four teams still standing. However, only three Wildcats -- Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle -- make even 70 percent at the stripe.
4. What will the Wildcats get out of Andrew Harrison?
Harrison, whose twin brother, Aaron, made the game-winning three-pointer against Michigan, has been inconsistent in this tournament. He scored only seven points and made one field goal while posting more turnovers (five) than assists (six) against Kansas State in Kentucky's first game. In the upset of Wichita State, he had 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting, though he again struggled handling the ball (three assists, six turnovers). And while he had 22 points, 13 assists and only six turnovers combined against Louisville and Michigan, he shot just 7-for-23 in those two games.
1. Will size matter?
The Badgers' backcourt of Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser runs 6-foot-1, 6-2 and 6-3, respectively. That's likely to be an issue against the physical, 6-foot-6 Harrison twins, and raises the question of whether that trio can penetrate and finish near the rim the way that Michigan's bigger guards could.
2. Will the glasswork shatter?
For a team without imposing size in the frontcourt, Wisconsin does good work on the defensive class. It cleans up 72.8 percent of the available defensive rebounds, 16th-best in the nation. Kentucky, meanwhile, grabbed 17 offensive rebounds in the regional final alone. It will be critical for the Badgers to close out defensive stops if they hope to advance to the title game.
3. Can Frank Kaminsky keep shining?
The 7-foot junior has become increasingly baffling for big men to guard, averaging 22 points on 58.7 percent shooting in his last three NCAA tournament games. He mostly had his way with Arizona's two-man frontcourt of Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon in the West Regional final, but Kentucky's frontcourt triumvirate of Dakari Johnson (7-foot), Julius Randle (6-9) and Marcus Lee (6-9) triumvirate will present a bigger challenge.
4. Will Sam Dekker seize the moment?
The sophomore averaged 13.6 points per game from November through February, which was tops on the team. In nine March outings, however, he's averaged only 8.4 points per game, fourth on the team. Dekker took just 13 shots in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins combined, but he'll have to be more active and effective in the Final Four.
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