#7 Connecticut Huskies vs. #1 Florida Gators
Saturday – April 5 – 5:09 P.M.
This Final Four matchup between the expected and the unexpected features the Florida Gators, who came into the tournament as the top overall seed, and the seventh-seeded University of Connecticut Huskies. Nobody is shocked to see Florida headed to Arlington with the third-best scoring defense in the nation and a 30-game win streak. They feature four starting seniors who have been to the Elite Eight each of the last three years, but are now headed to their first Final Four.
There’s no doubt that Billy Donavan’s squad is on a mission to finish things off this year. They have playmakers at every position and don’t rely on any one player to make things happen. They’re defined by their defensive grit that is known for suffocating the opponent’s offense. On the other side, we see a coach in Kevin Ollie who is making it to the Final Four in his first ever NCAA Tournament appearance and he has his Huskies playing their best basketball down the home stretch. They overcame a late deficit to beat St. Joseph’s in overtime in the second round and went on to upset Villanova, Iowa State, and Michigan State. Led by senior guard Shabazz Napier and junior guard Ryan Boatright, the Huskies are the Cinderella story of the Final Four, and with each game they look more and more confident. To make things even more interesting, the last loss that Florida suffered, back on Dec. 2, came at the hands of a Napier buzzer beater. This will be a big confidence boost for the Huskies, but both teams know this time there’s a lot more at stake.
For Donavan, he looks to get back to the National Championship for the first time since 2006-07 when his Florida Gators won back-to-back titles. Meanwhile, Ollie is looking to take UConn back to the National Championship for the first time since they won it all back in 2011.
Players to Watch
Shabazz Napier (UConn, Sr.)
Shabazz Napier is the heart and soul of this UConn team, leading them in points (17.4), assists (4.9), and rebounds (5.9) in the regular season, and in the tournament he’s been even more impressive, bringing his scoring average up to 23.3 points per contest. He can score and create in a number of ways whether it’s driving to the basket, shooting jump shots, or finding the open man. He has presented problems for defenses all tournament long, and if the Huskies want to advance past a strong Florida team, Napier will have to continue to play at a high level.
Scottie Wilbekin (Florida, Sr.)
While Scottie Wilbekin may not be someone who blows you away on paper, averaging just 13 points and 3.8 assists per game, he makes this team go. He is a relentless defender and a playmaker on the offensive end with a knack for making key shots and high difficulty layups. There’s no doubt that the elevation of his play this year has been a major factor in the success of the Gators. As they get going against the Huskies, Wilbekin will be asked to help slow down Napier and Ryan Boatright. The amount of success that he is able to have in doing that may very well be the determining factor in this game.
With both of these teams ranking in the top 40 in defense, there’s no doubt we’ll see a hard-fought, physical game when they tip off. Florida comes in as a favorite, but UConn comes in with confidence, as the last team having beaten the Gators. It’s no doubt that Napier is playing the best individual basketball right now of anyone in this game, and he will cause problems for the stingy Florida defense. However, Florida has been the more experienced, complete and consistent team all year. The Gators have great guard play led by Wilbekin as well as good interior play with Patric Young, giving them good balance offensively. For that reason, I believe Florida will take care of business and head to the National Championship game to try and secure its third national title under Donavan.
Final Score Prediction
Florida wins 64-58