Final Four teams prepare for Texas two-step
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter March 30, 2014 10:19PM
Connecticut's Shabazz Napier, right, moves the ball around Michigan State's Travis Trice in the first half of a regional final at the NCAA college basketball tournament on Sunday, March 30, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) ORG XMIT: MSG105
ODDS TO WIN
Team Current Opening
Florida 4-5 5-1
Kentucky 2-1 40-1
Wisconsin 5-2 20-1
UConn 10-1 80-1
ONLY ONE ONE
Final Fours with only one No. 1 seed (champion in CAPS):
1979 — No. 1 Indiana State, No. 2 MICHIGAN STATE, No. 2 DePaul,
No. 9 Pennsylvania
1980 — No. 2 LOUISVILLE, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Purdue, No. 8 Ucla
1989 — No. 1 Illinois, No. 2 Duke,
No. 3 MICHIGAN, No. 3 Seton Hall
1990 — No. 1 UNLV, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Georgia Tech, No. 4 Arkansas
1992 — No. 1 DUKE, No. 2 Indiana, No. 4 Cincinnati, No. 6 Michigan
1994 — No. 1 ARKANSAS, No. 2 Arizona, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Florida
1995 — No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Arkansas, No. 2 North Carolina, No. 4 Oklahoma State
1998 — No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 KENTUCKY, No. 3 Stanford, No. 3 Utah
2000 — No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE,
No. 5 Florida, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 8 Wisconsin
2003 — No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 SYRACUSE, No. 3 Marquette
2004 — No. 1 Duke, No. 2 UCONN, No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Georgia Tech
2006 — No. 2 Ucla, No. 3 FLORIDA, No. 4 Lsu, No. 11 George Mason
2010 — No. 1 DUKE, No. 2 West Virginia, No. 5 Butler, No. 5 Michigan State
2011 — No. 3 UCONN, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Butler, No. 11 VCU
2012 — No. 1 KENTUCKY, No. 2 Kansas, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 4 Louisville
2013 — No. 1 LOUISVILLE, No. 4 Michigan, No. 4 Syracuse, No. 9 Wichita State
2014 — No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 7 UConn, No. 8 Kentucky
Updated: March 30, 2014 10:46PM
INDIANAPOLIS — Kentucky was the last team to win its way into the 2014 Final Four, which was fitting considering these Wildcats are late getting around to everything.
They opened the season as the No. 1-ranked team and began playing like it sometime around, oh, late March. In their last three games — unforgettable affairs with Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan — they dug themselves holes of nine, 13 and 10 points before remembering to tap into what coach John Calipari called their “will to win.”
“I hate to say this, but they play better when they’re down, and I don’t know why,” Calipari said after Sunday’s 75-72 victory over Michigan. “They play fearless. They play aggressive. They get emotion. They bow their neck. And they want to win.”
Heck, who doesn’t?
Florida enjoys winning so much, it has done exactly that 30 times, three of them, matter of fact, against SEC rival Kentucky. If the Wildcats (28-10) are going to finally get around to beating the Gators (36-2), it’ll have to happen in the championship game next Monday in Arlington, Texas.
Before that can happen, Florida, the No. 1 team in the country, will have to beat East No. 7 seed Connecticut — which has supplanted Dayton as the tournament’s biggest overachiever — on Saturday. Shouldn’t be that big of a problem, right?
So very wrong. The Gators have lost twice this season: at Wisconsin by six points in November and at UConn by a point on Dec. 2. A mere 124 days later, they’ll try to atone for the second one. Who knows? If Wisconsin makes it to the title game, the Gators might get to atone for the first one, too.
It would be just about as undefeated as not being undefeated gets.
“It’s hard to believe what these guys have done,” said their coach, Billy Donovan. “It’s amazing.”
Also amazing: UConn’s Shabazz Napier has taken over this tournament in a manner that only Wisconsin’s Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky can compete with. Napier is the best offensive point guard in college basketball. Once again, he’ll go head-to-head against the best defensive point guard, Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin.
In their first meeting, Napier scored 26 and — one other little detail for you — hit the winning jumper at the buzzer.
“It was a dogfight, a tough game, and it came down to one last shot,” Napier said. “And I expect it to be the same, a dogfight. [Coach Kevin Ollie] is going to get us prepared for this game, and let’s get down there and do our thing.”
Meanwhile, Frank the Tank! All across America, fans of March Madness — and that means everybody —are flipping out over Wisconsin’s Kaminsky.
For a while, it appeared the Final Four might be all about the dominance of the Big Ten. After Michigan State and Michigan went down in the Elite 8, though, the Badgers (30-7) are all the Big Ten has left. And they’re riding to Arlington on the back of Kaminsky, the former Benet star, who scored 28 points in an overtime victory over West No. 1 seed Arizona.
The Badgers’ semifinal against Kentucky will be a display of red, white and blue. The Wildcats will supply the blue. The Badgers will bring the red … and the white.
“White guys,” is how Kaminsky described his team in Anaheim.
“We want a national championship now,” Kaminsky said. “We have [the] opportunity to get there, so why not go get it?”
Two more wins — somebody’s going to get ’em. And there’s a pretty good chance all four of these teams think they can do it.