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Gamblin'NCAA Basketball

Final Four Preview: Can Wisconsin Beat The Kentucky Monstars? And How Can UConn Beat Florida?

There are four universities left in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. They will be known as the Final Four Universities.

Before we preview the games, let’s get the narratives straight:

Wisconsin had an excellent season with one bad 1-5 stretch and has (mostly) shored up its vulnerable defense come tournament time. They beat teams they were supposed to beat in the first three rounds, in impressive fashion. Then they played very well against Arizona in a mild upset. But ignore their seed; they are the slight underdogs vs. 8th-seed Kentucky.

Kentucky was wildly overrated as the “team that has a great chance to go undefeated.” But only idiots said that. They showed their youth early, but weren’t nearly as bad as people suggested. They underachieved in the regular season, but they were a top-15 team in adjusted efficiency for the majority of the year. And everybody with eyes knew they had the potential to be better. They needed two impressive-but-not-unbelievable upsets to earn a matchup with Michigan, where they survived in a well-played game as favorites. They are expected to make the final.

Florida earned its No. 1 seed with an impressive season and its wins over Pitt and UCLA were relatively impressive, but they were gifted an Elite 8 matchup with Dayton and have had the easiest path here. Though as a 1-seed, that’s fair. They’re the favorites to cut down the nets. That’s mainly because they’re playing…

UConn. They’re the “Cinderella team,” or whatever the hell you want to call them. They had the worst regular season of all four teams, and it’s not close. They lost by 33 to Louisville three weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t earn their way here. They scored two mild upsets and one big one, consecutively, to get here. The last win was over the OMG THEY HAD SOME INJURY TROUBLE SO NOW THEY’RE UNBEATABLE Spartans.

But they got outplayed in the first round and probably should’ve been upset.

I’m guessing ESPN is framing things differently, but you’re smarter than them. Now, the games.

(8) Kentucky -2 vs. (2) Wisconsin

Upset Chance (via the Pinnacle betting odds): 45%

Don’t listen to anyone that gives you stats on 8-seeds vs. 2-seeds or teams that start with “W” vs. “K” or whatever the hell contextless trends they spew. They mean nothing. Especially if they come from this man.

This matchup is a matchup between two of the top teams in the country. Seeds are stupid.

How do they play?

Kentucky: My Michigan college friend, understandably freaking out about last weekend’s game, kept referring to Kentucky as the Monstars. The analogy is perfect. They are indeed the Kentucky Monstars — freakishly talented, athletic aliens lured to their team by a sleazy businessman via questionable means.

Physically, they can overwhelm anyone. But they are ogres who (typically) cannot make jump-shots. They run around bullying you, chuck the ball at the backboard, muscle you out of the way and get the offensive rebound (42.5% of the time, on average, best in the NCAA… or 63% of the time against Michigan, GOOD GOD).

Monstars are also excellent at defense, but for some reasons, perhaps effort-based or John-Calipari-sucks-at-non-cheating-at-recruiting-things-based, they were ranked “just” 40th in adjusted defensive efficiency. This definitely understates their talent level and they’re capable of outperforming that number, but it is the number. Numbers never often lie.

Wisconsin: Yes, Wisconsin starts four white guys. Yes, they are an excellent shooting team (32nd in EFG%), they take care of the ball (2nd in TO%) and don’t go hard on the offensive glass. Yes, they start three guys who are sub-6-foot-4. But they also have Frank Kaminsky, who is All-America caliber. He is 7-feet-tall and can shoot and score down low which means he is nearly impossible to stop. He is an impoverished American man’s Dirk Nowitzki.

Yes, their relative weakness is defense. But after finishing just seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency in Big 10 play, they have shored things up and been pretty solid of late.

Good matchup?

On paper, this is the greatest defensive matchup ever for Wisconsin. Wisconsin is exceptional, statistically, at two things on defense. Defensive rebounding (12th nationally) and keeping teams off the free-throw line (3rd). Kentucky’s offensive strengths are their ridiculous offensive rebounding (1st) and getting to the free throw line (9th).

The bullying Monstars meet the unwavering fundamentals. Who will prevail?

(Typically, I side with the bullies.)

On the other side, though, the matchup doesn’t seem great. Wisconsin relies a lot on threes (45th in 3PA/FGA), and Kentucky is pretty good at guarding the 3-point line (70th in opponent 3PA/FGA). Though Willie Cauley-Stein would probably be the ideal Kaminsky defender. He’s probably not playing. Can Julius Randle guard the much taller Kaminsky? (Randle has a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and Kaminsky’s wingspan is nowhere to be found because draft “experts” inexplicably have ignored him until now, because “experts” are dumb.)

How do you beat them?

Wisconsin is vulnerable to two things, defensively: Opponents’ getting hot from three, and getting killed on the offensive boards. Both of these things are relatively unlikely, due to Wisconsin’s strengths. But they lost seven games this year, and at least one of those things happened in all of them.

Made it rain from Treysville: Michigan, Northwestern, Nebraska
Killed ‘em on the offensive boards: Indiana, Minnesota
A good dose of both: Ohio State, Michigan State

Not too complicated. Kentucky is a bad 3-point shooting team (33.2%), but just went 7-for-11 against Michigan. It can happen. But don’t expect it to. But do expect the getting killed on the boards thing. Yes, Wisconsin’s defensive-rebounding numbers are good, but they’ve struggled at times against superior teams.

Kentucky: Based on recent performance, Wisconsin can score on Kentucky. Michigan just put up 1.26 PPP. Wichita State put up 1.23. Louisville only managed 1.08, but they couldn’t hit a 3 (4-for-15) or a free throw (13-for-23).

Kentucky’s offense has been pretty damn good, so Wisconsin will probably need a big offensive day to win this.

Prediction/Wild Guess: I definitely lean towards Kentucky. If they can contain Kaminsky just a bit, I think they can go off. I don’t care about Wisconsin’s defensive rebounding stats — the Monstars will probably kill them on the boards. So they’ll probably score, regardless of how poorly they shoot. If I had to pick, I’d go Kentucky.

Kentucky 68, Wisconsin 59

(1) Florida -6.5 vs. (7) Connecticut

Upset Chance: 27%

How do they play?

Florida: They’re probably the best defensive team in the country, they’re freakishly athletic and press and cause a lot of turnovers. Their offense is excellent but struggles at times blah blah blah they’re good and favored for a reason.

Their only weaknesses are turning the ball over (115th in TO%) and free-throw shooting (66.8%, 279th, hahaha).

Connecticut: Awesome at shooting threes (38.9%, 22nd), crazy-good from the line (77.4%), good at moving out of Shabazz Napier’s way and letting him Shabazz. 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency due to awesome 42.1% (7th) shooting allowed on 2s. Very bad at shooting 2s, though (47.9%, 207th).

Good matchup?

UConn has played a ton of aggressive, talented defenses that force lots of turnovers, because the AAC is filled with them.

How’d they do?

Pretty good. And pretty bad. Sort of all over the place.

In six of those matchups, they were around or below their season average in turnovers and didn’t struggle, especially. They went 3-3 in those games, all against pretty good teams.

In another six of those matchups, their TO% was over 20, usually well over 20, and they went 2-4 in those games. SMU, Lousiville, Memphis and Cincinnati were the culprits… but they all were in the above category, too.

They were worse at taking care of the ball away from home. But it doesn’t seem like a massive or necessarily significant discrepancy. And they’ve been below their season average in TO% in each of their tourney games. But two of those games were quasi-home-games at the Garden. They’re not in the Garden anymore. Who knows?

Oh, and they played Florida at home, earlier this year. They won by one, and struggled with turnovers on offense (21.9%). They won mainly because Florida turned the ball over even more (the Huskies aren’t bad at forcing TOs, either), and the discrepancy in 3-point shooting was bigger than Shabazz’s testicles (11-for-24 for UConn, 3-for-9 for Florida). Shabazz went off (26 points, efficient).

Also, it obviously helped that Scottie Wilbekin was suspended for the game. Him vs. Shabazz could be the matchup of the tournament.

How do you beat them?

Florida: Florida has lost twice this year. Wisconsin shut them down on offense, on the road. They have a worse defense than UConn, so that’s something. And as you know, the other loss was to UConn. But it was also on the road and took some 3-point shooting luck. And UConn turning the ball over was a bad sign.

And any idiot who thinks Florida will take the Huskies lightly, well, revenge and the FINAL FOUR. So, probably not.

Connecticut: Six of UConn’s losses came to aggressive, turnover-forcing defenses. But as I just said, they also beat some of those teams.

Prediction/Wild Guess: Florida is the better team. UConn is equipped to win if they play well, but they’ll need to hit their threes and win the turnover battle. Both of those things are possible. It’s a nice matchup if they take care of the ball and can score at all in the paint (which will be tough).

In a fairly slow-paced game (Florida holds teams to obscenely-long possessions), I definitely see reason to take the points. And I love Shabazz, so I’ll even pick the upset.

UConn 63, Florida 61

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