While my bracket didn't come close to predicting this final foursome, it's nice to look back at the preseason edition of the Power Rankings -- published on Nov. 7, 2013 -- and see that Florida, Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn all appeared in the top 16. And funny to recall how much of a mess the Gators were then: point guard Scottie Wilbekin and forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris were indefinitely suspended, and Chris Walker wasn't eligible to enroll. I ranked them seventh and wrote that there's "no team more difficult to get an early read on than Florida."
The Gators sorted themselves out, and everyone seems to have a pretty good read on them now. They're the clear (but not overwhelming) favorite in Arlington, and No. 1 in the final Power Rankings:
1. Florida Gators (South Regional champion)
The Gators arrive at the Final Four with the nation's most efficient defense, which has no identifiable weaknesses. The four factors that measure a team's defensive success are effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and free-throw rate, and the radar plot below shows where the Final Four teams rank in each of the factors, according to kenpom.com.
While Wisconsin and Kentucky are held back by their lack of turnover-creation, and UConn struggles to defensive rebound, the Gators rank in the top 45 nationally in all four factors:
On the offensive side (where the four factors are effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and free-throw rate), Florida is still balanced but not nearly as dominant. Kentucky is elite at drawing fouls and pulling down offensive boards, while Wisconsin's success is contingent on taking smart shots and rarely committing turnovers:
Next up: vs. No. 7-seeded UConn on Saturday
2. Wisconsin Badgers (West Regional champion)
Are the Badgers the hottest team in the Final Four? Friend-of-the-rankings Andy Cox, creator of a stat called Net Efficiency Margin, says that's the case. Net Efficiency Margin measures a team's efficiency relative to what an average D-I team would be expected to score/yield against each opponent. (An NEM rating is how many points per 100 possessions a team was better/worse than the D-I average expectation.)
According to NEM, the Badgers have had the best offensive and defensive four-game stretch of any of the semifinalists. They shellacked American and Baylor, and scored respectably well against Arizona's elite defense:
Cox also graphed out full-season NEM trends that indicate Wisconsin is playing at a level equal or better than it was during its dominant December:
Next up: vs. No. 8-seeded Kentucky on Saturday
3. Kentucky Wildcats (Midwest Regional champion)
How long can Aaron Harrison's long-range hot streak continue? After making 38-of-124 threes (30.6 percent) in the regular season, Harrison is 22-of-44 in the SEC and NCAA tournaments combined, and may be the most dangerous shooter in Arlington.
I charted the 43 postseason treys that were available on film, and found Harrison to be lethal from the corners (where he's 8-of-12) but firing his highest volume from the left wing, including his game-winner against Michigan. Harrison tends to start plays in the left corner but rise up to the wing for handoffs or drive-and-kick passes from his point-guard brother, Andrew.
Next up: vs. No. 2-seeded Wisconsin on Saturday
4. UConn Huskies (East Regional champs)
Something that may give the underdog Huskies hope on Saturday: Their offense has been better than Florida's in after-timeout (ATO) and halfcourt situations. I adjusted Synergy's raw points-per-possession data for strength of schedule and came up with these splits for the Final Four offenses:
While the concept of "UConn offense" is generally associated with "Shabazz Napier freelancing and making ridiculous shots," the Huskies actually opened their Elite Eight game against Michigan State by using him as a decoy. In their first scripted play, they had Napier cut to the left block before doubling back to set a nice pin-down screen for DeAndre Daniels, who scored over Branden Dawson:
: vs. No. 1-seeded Florida on Saturday