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NCAA March Madness: And Then There Were Four…
Let’s do a quick recap of the tournament and my predictions starting off with my upset picks.
I went 1 of 4 (Dayton over Ohio State) but was one coaching disaster (sorry Mark Gottfried but it is true.If you are up seven points with a 1:30 left in the game against a Saint Louis team who could not hit the broadside of a barn and blow it, I am putting that one on you pal) and one James Michael McAdoo free throw, who was shooting a whopping 53% on the year, from going 3 of 4.
I will concede blowing the Nebraska game because Baylor made it look like the Cornhuskers were playing with Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch out there rather than actual collegiate basketball players.
Florida took care of business in the South Region with wins over Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA, and Dayton.
Pressure defense and a well-balanced offensive attack is why I picked them to win it all and I see no reason to stray from that now.
Do not be surprised if you see Kevin Ollie coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder within the next few years. Kevin Durant was recently asked who the most influential teammate he played with was during his current NBA tenure and his answer? You got it, Mr. Ollie.
Wisconsin clinched the West Region with wins over American, Oregon, Baylor, and Arizona. Remember when I was scared to pick Wisconsin to do any damage because of their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tendencies?
Well Frank Kaminsky, Traveon Jackson, Josh Gasser and company looked like the cast of “ER” out there dissecting opponents with no Mr. Hyde to be found.
The Badgers are firing on all cylinders right now heading into the Final Four.
Kentucky lucked out (I mean advanced) through the Midwest Region with victories over Kansas State, Wichita State (who nobody can convince me that the Shockers weren’t the better team), Louisville (nice free throw shooting Cardinals) and Michigan (why wouldn’t that last terrible three pointer Aaron Harrison chucked up go in?).
My skeptics aside, the Wildcats are getting the job done and that is all that matters.
Florida versus Connecticut
The key to Florida beating Connecticut will be their perimeter shooting, plain and simple.
When Michigan State’s head coach Tom Izzo said after their loss that Kevin Ollie outcoached him, there is no higher praise than that.
Izzo was referring to Ollie’s defensive adjustments in which he packed in the lane and forced Michigan State to shoot three pointers all game, the Spartans were 11-29 from long distance.
Adreian Payne had been a beast the entire tournament and Branden Dawson had the potential to be just as lethal inside so Ollie gambled and dared Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Travis Trice to beat them on the outside, and it worked.
Expect Ollie to implement those same defensive schemes against Florida. Connecticut will try to make life a living hell for big men Patric Young, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Will Yeguete leaving it up to likes of Scottie Wilbekin, Michael Frazier II, and Casey Prather to make outside shots.
Key Matchup: Shabazz Napier versus Scottie Wilbekin
Saturday’s duel will showcase two of the top Point Guards in the country.
Napier is a great on-ball defender, unfortunately he must carry the scoring load for the Huskies so he takes numerous plays off on defense.
Just know that the defensive capability is there, and when necessary he can make the big defensive play to help save his team.
Scottie Wilbekin on the other hand does not take plays off and will be assigned the task of shadowing Napier everywhere he goes like an NFL cornerback.
I agree with Jay Bilas and other analysts that Wilbekin is the best on-ball defender in the country with Ohio State’s Aaron Craft being a close second.
Having said that, I am giving the edge to Wilbekin and the Gators to advance to the Championship Game.
Wisconsin versus Kentucky…and the Curious Case Of Me…and John Calipari
It is time I explain my utter disdain for John Calipari. If I have to listen to one more press conference with that pompous “jag off” (his choice of words, not mine) there is going to be a remote control thrown at my 52 inch Samsung television.
The following is a typical Q & A with Calipari after a game this tournament.
Reporter: Hey John, you guys pulled out another close one tonight huh?
Calipari: Well I have been telling you guys all year, I am playing five Freshman big minutes and they needed to endure some growing pains to find out what kind of character they possessed.
Reporter: How would you explain the emergence of the Harrison twins’ after they basically were a no show the entire regular season?
Calipari: Well I want everybody to know that my sentiments have never wavered when it came to Aaron and Andrew (sure buddy) and it was my fault I did not tweak the offense earlier in the season towards their skill set.
Reporter: By “tweak” do you mean you told them to stop shooting low percentage mid-range jumpers and start attacking the basket aimlessly because either the referees will bail them out (see Wichita State game) and send them to the line or the beast known as Julius Randle or one of the other 6’11” uber-athletic forwards will grab the offensive rebound leading to a lay-up or dunk?
Calipari: (Nodding vehemently).
I’m not the only one who isn’t a fan of John Calipari either…
Can we PLEASE just set up a “steel cage” match WWE style between South Carolina’s Frank Martin and Calipari with the loser having to retire forever. You are telling me you would not pay $49.95 to watch Martin elbow drop Calipari from the top of the cage “Macho Man Randy Savage” style? Go ahead, I dare you to say no.
Okay, back to basketball.
As much as I’ve bashed Kentucky, I do understand why they are two point favorites going in to this game.
I agree with my buddies Sean and Rodney that Wisconsin’s best chance of winning is that their front court of Frank Kaminsky, Zach Bohannon, and Sam Dekker have the ability to pull Kentucky’s big men out of the key because they all have superb shooting ability from the perimeter.
That will open up the lane for Traevon Jackson who is not a great shooter, but can be sneaky effective once he gets into the paint.
Kentucky Power Forward Willie Cauley-Stein is doubtful for Saturday’s game and that could prove devastating to the Wildcats chances of advancing.
Cauley-Stein is an elite defender and Kentucky will miss his length and rebounding down low. After reading the last paragraph you would assume I was favoring Wisconsin in this game, but that is not the case.
I just cannot alleviate that pain in my gut that Kentucky seems to have that “mojo” that North Carolina State had in 1983 when Jim Valvano’s miracle team won the tournament as a six seed.
When a team like that gets hot, sometimes it just does not matter how good the opposition is. I am sure that Phi Slamma Jamma (led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler) can vouch for that.
Key Matchup: Frank Kaminsky versus Julius Randle
Frank Kaminsky has had somewhat of a coming out party with his dazzling inside/outside game but Julius Randle is getting ready to validate why he is going to be a Top 5 NBA pick in a loaded 2014 draft.
Good luck trying to guard that guy while he is playing on the big stage in a huge game.
Randle recorded 27 points and 13 rebounds while going 9 for 14 from the field against Michigan State earlier in the year.
That game Randle had against Michigan State probably broke the record for most NBA scouts in one venue at the same time.
He’s a special player. Wisconsin’s best bet is to double Randle and force somebody else to beat them; but I am not even sure that will work.
Randle is just too strong and has impeccable footwork similar the NBA big man Zach Randolph.
I like Randle to have a monster game and have at least one key moment down the stretch while the Wildcats edge the Badgers in a tight one.