Originally Published: March 30, 2014

Like this season, this Final Four won't be boring

By C.L. Brown | ESPN.com

Many brackets surely imploded with this far-from-chalk Final Four. No. 7 seed Connecticut and No. 8 seed Kentucky make it the second time since the 2011 Final Four that two teams seeded outside of the top five reached the NCAA tournament's final weekend. Butler, as a No. 8 seed, and Virginia Commonwealth, as a No. 11 seed, made improbable runs that season.

The Huskies and Wildcats may be underdogs because of their seeding, but they're far from Cinderellas.

Connecticut is riding Shabazz Napier, who was a contributor on its 2011 national championship team. Kentucky is finally living up to its potential of having arguably the most talented freshman class in history. The Wildcats' tournament run, despite their stumbles through the seasons, is seemingly validating coach John Calipari's approach to filling his roster with one-and-done talents.

Both teams will have to deal with Florida and Wisconsin, both far-from-surprising entrants into the Final Four. The Gators are playing like the overall No. 1 seed of the NCAA tournament. The Badgers, the No. 2 seed in the West Region, still haven't lost to an opponent outside of the Big Ten this season.

Florida has played every team remaining. The Gators lost to both Connecticut and Wisconsin during non-conference play when they weren't at full strength and beat Kentucky three times during SEC play including in the tournament championship game.

Buckle up, folks, the Final Four should be entertaining and compelling.


FLORIDA (No. 1 seed)


Strengths: The Gators haven't lost a game when at full strength this season. Backup point guard Kasey Hill and freshmen forward Chris Walker did not play during their loss at UConn on Dec. 2. They're deep enough to withstand some foul trouble and they almost always get solid contributions from off the bench. Dorian Finney-Smith would start most places but averages 8.9 points and 6.7 rebounds as a reserve.

Among the point guards remaining, only Shabazz Napier is more experienced as a playmaker than Florida's Scottie Wilbekin.

Michael Frazier II is arguably the most prolific shooter in the Final Four. He's a 44.7 percent shooter from 3-point range and opens everything up on the inside for Patric Young.

The Gators rank 17th in steals nationally and average 7.9 steals per game. Defensively they can press their way into creating turnovers and scoring opportunities.

Weaknesses: Florida has a tendency to let teams stay in the game. When the Gators beat Kentucky in the SEC tournament championship game, they squandered a 15-point lead with 11 minutes left and let the Wildcats pull within one. To win the title they need to display a killer instinct.

Key to cutting down the nets: Florida is one of three teams to have a 30-game winning streak going into the Final Four. The previous three teams -- Indiana State 1979, UNLV 1991 and Duke 1999 -- did not win the national title. Unlike Kentucky, UConn and Wisconsin, they have four seniors that made the previous two Elite Eights. They may not have players who are considered the best at their respective positions, but their collective experience should come into play in Arlington.

Tournament road: Defeated Albany (67-55); Pittsburgh (61-45); UCLA (79-68); Dayton (62-52)

WISCONSIN (No. 2 seed)


Strengths: As center Frank Kaminsky showed against Arizona, he gets buckets. It probably won't continue to be of the 28-point variety, but when Wisconsin needs a shot, he'll be the guy to deliver it. He can be a matchup problem, inside and out.

The Badgers value the ball like few others. They ranked fourth nationally in fewest turnovers per game, averaging just about eight per game. And they ranked sixth nationally in assist to turnover ratio. The Badgers are an unselfish bunch who will make the extra pass to get the best shot possible.

Aside from the first half against Oregon, Wisconsin has played lockdown defense in the tournament. Guard Josh Gasser is generally regarded as its best defender. It's no coincidence that he drew the critical charge on Nick Johnson in overtime of the Badgers' Elite Eight win.

Weaknesses: The Badgers have trouble generating easy baskets through transition. They didn't score a single fast-break point against Arizona. The Badgers rely so much on their starting five that foul trouble could disrupt their rhythm. Especially if point guard Traevon Jackson had to sit for any long length of time. The team doesn't run the same without him on the floor.

Key to cutting down the nets: Keep shooting it. Ben Brust leads the way as the program's leader in career 3-pointers. In its eight-man rotation, Wisconsin has seven players who shoot more than 32 percent from 3-point range. The only player who doesn't is freshman forward Nigel Hayes, and he hasn't attempted a shot from behind the arc all season. Sam Dekker also has to get going again offensively. The sophomore forward was a combined 5 of 13 shooting in his past two games.

Tournament road: Defeated American (75-35); Oregon (85-77); Baylor (69-52); Arizona (64-63 OT)


CONNECTICUT (No. 7 seed)


Strengths: Shabazz Napier. No further explanation is necessary for anyone who has been paying attention to college basketball this season. The senior guard and American Athletic Conference Player of the Year led the Huskies in scoring, rebounding and assists. But more important than those raw numbers, Napier is a big-shot taker and big-shot maker. Florida is well aware of Napier's clutch gene after watching his buzzer-beating jumper hand the Gators their last defeat, way back on Dec. 2. March is about guard play and Napier and Ryan Boatright have been operating in the same backcourt for three years now.

Coach Kevin Ollie has his guys believing in their respective roles. Niels Giffey doesn't take many shots, but when he does 57 percent of the time it's going to be from behind the arc.

Weaknesses: The past two losses the Huskies suffered both came to Louisville. The familiar theme in both of those games was that Boatright did not make much of a contribution. He was a combined 5-of-21 in those games. The Huskies can have a tendency to rely too much on Napier's production. They're most effective when Boatright and DeAndre Daniels make big contributions.

The Huskies can be hurt on the boards. The fact that Napier, a 6-foot-1 guard, leads the team with 5.9 rebounds is also a warning sign about their limited frontcourt.

Key to cutting down the nets: The comparison has been made between Napier and former UConn guard Kemba Walker, who carried the Huskies to the 2011 national title. Napier isn't as explosive as Walker was, but they have little chance of winning a title if Napier doesn't play at his best.

Tournament road: Defeated St. Joseph's (89-81 OT); Villanova (77-65); Iowa State (81-76); Michigan State (60-54)


KENTUCKY (No. 8 seed)


Strengths: The Wildcats ranked second nationally in rebounding margin at 9.8 per game. They have the best frontcourt of the remaining teams, led by forward Julius Randle, who is a virtual walking double-double waiting to happen. Randle averaged 10.7 rebounds per game.

Aaron Harrison has all of a sudden become the clutch shooter, delivering 3-point daggers in the closing seconds against Louisville and Michigan.

Kentucky is also the deepest team remaining. Marcus Lee did not play against Wichita State and played only a minute against Louisville. But he chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds against Michigan to help the Wildcats advance. Sophomore Alex Poythress, who is the "old man" on this roster, scored six points to start their 15-3 rally against Louisville. With Kentucky, you never know which player is going to initiate the run.

Weaknesses: If the injury center Willie Cauley-Stein suffered against Louisville keeps him out of the lineup, the Cats will no longer have a strong shot-blocking presence in the middle. Cauley-Stein averaged nearly three blocks per game.

Point guard Andrew Harrison has been key to the Wildcats' resurgence, but if he reverts to his old ways of trying to shoot more than facilitate, Kentucky will look more like the team that lost to South Carolina than the team that beat the top two seeds en route to the Final Four.

Keys to cutting down the nets: Kentucky was the preseason No. 1 team in the nation for a reason. It has the most talent from 1-15 than any team remaining. The key for coach John Calipari has been getting them to play together instead of being individuals. As long as the Wildcats do that, they'll have a shot at winning Calipari's second title in three years.

Tournament road: Defeated Kansas State (56-49); Wichita State (78-76); Louisville 74-69; Michigan 75-72

C.L. Brown | email

ESPN Staff Writer

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