Four thoughts on emerging Final Four field as Florida, Wisconsin punch tickets to Dallas
On Saturday, two teams -- Florida and Wisconsin -- clinched spots in the Final Four. On Sunday, two more will do the same. Here are four thoughts on how that happened and what it means:
1. Florida can super-glue that chip to its shoulder.
It may be a bit contrived to think that the No. 1 overall seed would still need to convince itself that there are doubters. Then again, despite a winning streak that is now at 30 games in a row, Florida has never been viewed as an overwhelming favorite in this tournament, and a cynic might wonder about whether the Gators had too easy a path to the South region title. A team can only play who is put before them, of course, but in dispatching a No. 16, No. 9, No. 4 and No. 11 seed on the way to Dallas, Florida only once had to play the highest possible seed in each round. From the perspective of sheer talent, Sweet 16 victim UCLA was probably the only one that could even approach what Billy Donovan runs out on a nightly basis. That could very well change next weekend. The Gators may be the only No. 1 seed still standing, but they'll surely take advantage of any doubts, perceived or otherwise, to keep their edges sharp.
2. The Gators could use some more from Casey Prather.
By now, it's clear this is Scottie Wilbekin's team, as his cold-blooded, buzzer-beating three-pointer before halftime against Dayton demonstrated yet again. But Prather, the Gators' leading scorer during the regular season, has been eerily quiet during this NCAA tournament run. He took 11 shots in the win over No. 16 seed Albany -- and has taken just 16 shots, total, over the next three games. The senior guard did manage 12 points in 19 minutes against UCLA, but he took just five shots from the floor. He attempted only five more (making two and scoring six points) in the 62-52 win on Saturday against the Flyers. Defense and Wilbekin have led the Gators to their first Final Four in seven years, but more assertive contributions from a steady producer like Prather will be necessary to win two more games against high-level foes.
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3. Frank Kaminsky has become one of the NCAA tournament's breakout stars.
The junior center, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, has been an almost unstoppable inside-out force for Wisconsin during its Final Four run. He scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Arizona in the Badgers' thrilling overtime victory in the West Regional final on Saturday, and he is now averaging 22 points and 6.7 rebounds in his last three tournament games.
Kaminsky presents a befuddling matchup problem for teams not accustomed to facing Wisconsin. He can run pick-and-pop plays with virtually anyone from the point guard to the power forward, he can shoot threes and he can back a defender down and score with a variety of post moves. Kaminsky is shooting an impressive 58.7 percent from the floor in his last three games, and the Badgers can play through him to keep defenses off-balance.
4. The Big Ten has an excellent chance to end its title drought.
A Big Ten team has not won a national championship since Michigan State did so in 2000, despite sending nine teams to the Final Four in the next 13 years. Putting three teams in the Elite Eight this year gave the league hope that the odds would be in its favor; Wisconsin's upset of Arizona locked up at least one spot in Dallas and created the very real possibility of two or even three Big Ten teams making the Final Four. For that to happen, Michigan will have to solve a red-hot Kentucky team in the Midwest Regional final and Michigan State will have to fend off Connecticut in a pro-Huskies atmosphere at Madison Square Garden in the East Regional final. Both Sunday chores are doable, if not easy. But Wisconsin cleared the highest bar against the top-seeded Wildcats and left it up to its conference brethren to secure the remaining available spots, which would make the Big Ten the first league since the Big East in 1985 to have three teams in the Final Four.