Can UConn's defense match the Gators?

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
7:00
PM ET

ARLINGTON, Texas -- After five days of prelude, it's hard to find something new to say about these games -- every angle has been explored, discussed, dismissed and recycled, often in the matter of an afternoon. No analytical stone goes unturned, and yet, the underlying matchups we'll see on Saturday remain as fascinating and exciting as ever.

UConn vs. Florida


What to watch: Can UConn's defense keep it in the game? Fact is, no matter good Shabazz Napier is -- and he's really, really good -- the Huskies are probably going to struggle on offense. Florida's defense is the best in the country, and it's also well suited to guarding a perimeter-oriented, guard-dominant group like Kevin Ollie's. But UConn's defense is a top-10 per-possession unit in its own right, and if the Huskies frustrate Florida inside and keep Michael Frazier II from knocking down 3s from the wings, and they can keep the game close enough to give themselves a shot in the final few minutes … well, is there any player you'd rather have in that situation than Shabazz?

Who to watch: Napier is the star of the show here, obviously, and UConn's chances are inextricably tied to how well its point guard plays. But that won't necessarily be enough: Ryan Boatright will have to create some rotation havoc with dribble penetration; DeAndre Daniels will have to get to the rim here and there; Niels Giffey will have to make shots.

Key matchup: Again, there is an obvious answer here: Napier, the best guard in the country, will frequently be guarded by Scottie Wilbekin, arguably the best perimeter defender in the country. And vice versa: Napier will have to check the always-calm SEC player of the year when Florida runs its spread pick-and-roll stuff. But I'm also interested to see how UConn matches up with Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith and especially Patric Young down low. If Florida gets easy post buckets early and often, look out.

Who wins (with final score): Florida 72-66


Kentucky vs. Wisconsin


What to watch: Is "everything" an acceptable answer? There's so much to see here: John Calipari leading the nation's most talented team to an unlikely (if not exactly surprising) late-season renaissance. Bo Ryan reaching his first Final Four with a team that plays an up-tempo, picture-perfect rendition of his elegant swing offense. The startling youth of Kentucky. The reliable veterans of Wisconsin. The high likelihood of a game decided by one or two possessions in the final moments. A massive state-of-the-art stadium filled with die-hard fans in red and blue.

There is no such thing as a bad Final Four game, and Florida-UConn is going to be great. But this has all the makings of a classic.

Who to watch: Frank Kaminsky's uber-efficient offensive play is what lifted the Badgers' already lights-out offense to even greater heights in March; it's what allowed them to score 1.19 points per trip in four games (the latter of which included Arizona's smother defense and a Baylor team that destroyed Creighton two nights before Wisconsin put it through a clinic). And so much of the discussion here this week has revolved around how Kentucky will stop Kaminsky. Zone doesn't seem like a viable option, UK is missing Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson can't play far from the rim. Can Julius Randle take on the task? Marcus Lee? Does Kentucky go small and use Alex Poythress -- who has had a very solid tournament -- at the 4?

Key matchup: The above are all valid questions, but Wisconsin's offense is crafty enough to score against athleticism in all kinds of configurations. (See: last weekend.) Wisconsin's defense -- or, more precisely, its defensive rebounding -- may decide the game. Kentucky is the best offensive rebounding team in the country. It grabs nearly 43 percent of its misses. It uses drives to the rim to peel defenders away from their assignments, at which point Randle and company devour easy second-chance points. Wisconsin is a pretty solid defensive rebounding team, but it hasn’t seen anything like UK. Can it hold the line?

Who wins (with final score): Wisconsin 68-67


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