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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.


Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.