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Monday, March 31, 2014


Four men’s collegiate basketball teams have fought their way into the 2014 Final Four. There is a diversity of seeding. There is a diversity of levels of experience. There are diverse paths that led all four teams to college basketball’s signature spectacle in Arlington, Texas. All four teams had just enough to make it.


I may have missed badly when I discussed four teams worth watching prior to the tournament selection. I swung and missed with my bracket prediction. However, even a broken clock is right twice per day. So far, so good, with the Florida Gators….

The#1 seeded Gators, who were perfect in Southeastern Conference competition this year, appear to be the strongest teams with the most momentum of the four finalists. Scottie Wilbekin, whose road to the Final Four was a rocky one due to off the court issues, has put this team on his back and picked them up each time it counted most during the Big Dance.

Teams like the Dayton Flyers and UCLA Bruins threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Gators; Florida chomped right through it all. Expect Florida to run another gauntlet when they face Connecticut next Saturday. Expect Coach Billy Donovan to have his team ready.


UConn entered the tournament following a solid but unremarkable regular season. Seeded seventh, the senior laden Huskies did not surprise many people by advancing to the round of 16. What could not have been expected, is how point guard Shabazz Napier caught fire and took over games in tightly contested wins against Iowa State and Michigan State. Their success in the Final Four will boil down to how far Napier and Coach Kevin Ollie can push this team.


Losers of five of six at one point, after being ranked in the top 10, which Coach Bo Ryan Wisconsin Badgers team is going to show up? If the Frank Kaminsky that vaulted the Badgers past Arizona and Baylor shows up, the Badgers could be playing next Monday night. My concern with this team is that Sam Dekker’s role has gone from that of key scoring player, earlier in the year, to role player. All hands will need to be on deck if Ryan’s Badgers hope to cut down the nets.


Eight seed? What #8 seed? The Midwest region was dubbed “the region of death” for a good reason. The previously undefeated top seed, 2013 Final Four participant Wichita State, was rubbed out in the round of 32. The fifth ranked team in the country, Louisville, was seeded 4th in the region. The eighth seeded Kentucky Wildcats advanced to the Final Four from this brutal region, the lowest seed among the Final Four teams, and nobody is referencing Cinderella in regard to UK.

This freshman-laden team appeared to turn a corner in the SEC tournament and is not turning back. They’ve been battle tested and are accustomed to pressure after narrowly winning in instant classics against Louisville and Michigan. Wisconsin has not played a team playing at the level that the Wildcats are playing at right now. After a roller coaster regular season and questions about the wisdom of heavily recruiting freshmen not likely to return for a sophomore season, Coach Calipari appears to be ready for another “last laugh” in the NCAA Tournament.


For all of the criticism about how weak the SEC is in basketball relative to the other power conferences, and all-SEC championship game is not far-fetched. On the other hand, the title matchup could be the first involving a team departed from the Big East after last season. And what about Wisconsin? Could Bo Ryan be rewarded for his years of patience and diligence with a National Championship. To be determined in Arlington, TX….  

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