the final four

final four
and then there were 4.

it’s been a solid college basketball betting year but this march has been one to forget. the madness has been filled with mediocracy… it hasn’t been  a train wreck  but a significant winning run has been absent. we’ll see if the final four brings some winners to close with.

neither match-up genuinely excites me from a betting stand point but gonzaga  has emerged the best bet saturday. the bulldogs simply do too much on both ends of the court for south carolina to keep up with. the gamecocks are a great story and clearly playing their best basketball of the season… frank martin is as likeable as he is excellent and his team is playing with an admirable energy. the trouble is the south carolina offense still can’t be trusted to score in a half-court set against a quality defensive opponent.

for good reason, many folks are talking about the stingy south carolina defense… not as many are talking up the equally tenacious bulldogs d. based on efficiency, these are the top two defenses in college hoops and it’s tough to give either side an edge when both are so good. offense is going to be the difference here. gonzaga has a bunch of guys who can create in different ways, while south carolina only has one guy (thornwell who is currently sick) who can genuinely be trusted to score. the gamecocks have had a few others (notably Dozier) step up at important times, but it’s tough to put money on these guys consistently putting the ball in the basket against the zags d. 

saturday’s prime-time match-up is oregon versus north carolina. my top 25 for most of the season had these two squads in the top 3. when boucher went down for the ducks they slipped to #6 in my poll but this is still a team loaded with talent and character. coach dana altman is as good as any in the game and this team will be unquestionably prepared. north carolina is the most talented team in the field but has some concern with the health of point-guard berry… he’s 2nd on the team in minutes played and is crucial to running the offense. ultimately there are more questions surrounding the heels in this spot. altman will force unc to knock down shots from the perimeter. it’s tough to bet against the heels… they’ve been my number 1 team since november. it’s harder to bet against altman and his focused group here plus points.

playing the west coast… going with zags and ducks. both small.

ncaab pick: #8 wisconsin vs. #4 florida

 

basketball-155997_960_720.pngWisconsin vs. Florida 2/24
At Madison Square Garden, New York City

Point-spread: Florida -1

The Badgers: (27-9)
Good: Beat Villanova 65-62 in Buffalo
Bad: Lost home games to Northwestern and Iowa

Wisconsin struggled through February but has suddenly won five of six, including the 65-62 decision over #1 Villanova. This is the only team in the country to be in the last four Sweet 16’s and has a togetherness which is unique to this tournament. It’s a team that was a preseason favorite to do big things but somewhat underperformed… until now. The teams best player is 6’10 sophomore Ethan Happ; the cagey center shoots 58% from the floor and is the clear statistical leader. Seniors, Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter are the heart and soul of the team. This group is going to be incredibly difficult to beat if the game is tight in the closing minutes.

The Gators: (26-8)
Good: Beat Kentucky by 22 in Gainesville and Virginia by 26 in Orlando
Bad: Lost to Vanderbilt three times

Florida has been one of the best stories in college basketball this season. 2nd-year coach Mike White has put the Gators back in the national conversation. Early in the season, it became obvious that this group was elite on the defensive end. It has maintained the defensive intensity, while turning into an outstanding offensive unit as well. The Gators have played without big-man John Egbunu (out for season) for 10 games now… they took the potentially devastating news in stride and have continued to improve since. It’s likely they will miss him against the Badgers elite front line. That said, Florida has plenty of length and is one of the most formidable defensive units in college basketball.

The Prediction:

It ultimately comes down to how Florida shoots the ball from the outside. The Gators have been solid from the perimeter throughout the second half of the season… they struggled in the first-half against East Tennessee State but have consistently knocked down shots since. The biggest vulnerability of the Badgers is their speed defending the perimeter. Florida has lighting quick guards and will create open looks. On the other hand, Wisconsin has terrific players on the interior and will certainly challenge the toughness of the Gator big men. You have to like the grit and experience of the Badgers if it’s close in the final  eight minutes but more than likely, the Gators will have created separation by then.

Pick: Gators