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Final Four Preview: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn

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FINAL FOURAll Final Four coverage | X-Factors | Why each team can/won’t win

Today we will be breaking down Saturday’s Final Four matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn:

WHEN: Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET (TBS)

WHERE: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

MAJOR STORY LINES: Let’s get beyond the fact that these two teams have played once already this season, because we all know that the last time that Florida lost, back in December, came when Shabazz Napier was doing Shabazz Napier things like hitting buzzer-beaters. What’s more interesting is that Napier hasn’t stopped doing that, and has since led the Huskies to the American tournament title game and now the Final Four. Reminiscent of a certain UConn point guard by the name of Kemba, no?

What makes that all the more impressive is that UConn was left for dead as a program not too long ago. Recruiting violations, academic sanctions, getting kicked out of the Big East, getting blacklisted from the ACC, dealing with a coaching change and a new regime. And in his first NCAA tournament, that new regime — Kevin Ollie — has led the Huskies to with a game of playing for a national title.

Also worth noting here is that Billy Donovan has a chance to win his third title before the ago of 50. At what point does he (rightfully) get recognized as one of the sport’s legendary coaches?

KEY STATS: UConn is a top ten team defensively, and it starts with their back court. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright can absolutely hound opposing guards. Florida has a tendency to be a bit turnover prone and UConn’s guards — I’m throwing Lasan Kromah into the mix as well — have a habit of picking pockets.

KEY PLAYERS: Normally I like to make this section be dedicated to the x-factors, but not this time, not when Shabazz Napier and Scottie Wilbekin are so important to their team’s success. Napier is the star of stars in this Final Four, the lone first-team all-american and the most important player to his team’s success. As Shabazz goes, so goes the Huskies. Wilbekin’s stardom isn’t quite as obvious. Florida’s recipe for winning basically goes like this: build a 5-10 point lead on a team over the course of the first 30 minutes, then give the ball to Wilbekin to close out the win. I’m not sure it will happen unless Florida plays Wilbekin and Kasey Hill together for extended minutes, but there’s always room to hope for those two going head-to-head for 40 minutes.

POINT SPREAD: Florida (-6.5)


1. DeAndre Daniels: He’s got lottery pick talent, but the only thing that he’s done consistently throughout his career is to play inconsistently. He put on one of the best performances that you’ll see in March in the win over Iowa State, and he’s been playing well for about three weeks straight now. He’s the guy that turns UConn from a good team to a team that has a chance to beat the Gators.

2. Florida switching defenses: This is what makes them so difficult to prepare for. They can give you five or six different looks defensively, and they can play all of them at an elite level. It doesn’t hurt that they have athletes up and down their roster that look like they’ve been training for the Mr. Universe competition.

3. UConn’s rebounding: The Huskies are not a big team, and their size up front is not all that strong or physical. There is a reason that they rank 246th in defensive rebounding percentage. Florida isn’t exactly Kentucky, but they can get on the offensive glass. Here’s the thing to remember, however: UConn’s front line shut down Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson on Sunday. Florida’s bigs aren’t as good as them.


As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.