NCAA Championship 2014: Updated Title Odds Going into Final Four
Are you ready to watch the SEC championship, ahem, national championship next Monday night?
Wisconsin and UConn are on incredible runs, but this feels like we are headed for the fourth round of Kentucky vs. Florida. Freshmen vs. seniors. Preseason No. 1 against postseason No. 1.
It's just too good not to happen, right?
Well, Tom Izzo's seniors keeping the Izzo streak alive of every one of his senior classes getting to a Final Four seemed too good not to come true, but Shabazz Napier got in the way. And Arizona, the team that was right there with Florida as the best during the regular season, seemed destined for the Final Four, but then Frank Kaminsky happened.
You can put together scenarios for all four of these teams to win the title, but it's going to be hard to bet against Florida. The following slides break down why you should buy and sell each team, and I put odds on each team's title chances. Talent, experience, depth and efficiency matter. And for the final factor, the eye test was applied.
Considering I had Michigan State as my national champ, I wouldn't be placing any bets based off my advice. Hey, I'm just hoping for the best story to win out.
The Road Ahead: The Huskies just beat the team that I thought had the best combination of talent and experience in the country in Michigan State. But that was predicated on the Spartans being healthy and playing to their abilities. And Keith Appling, who scored 10 points total in the NCAA tournament, was not there.
Now UConn gets to play the team that has all its pieces playing well and probably should have been considered the team with the best combination of talent and experience. Florida is the favorite for good reason.
Reason to Buy: Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels and defense.
Let's start with Daniels, who is playing the best basketball of his career. He is averaging 17 points per game during the NCAA tournament, and he's almost more key to the Huskies playing their best than Napier. With Napier, he has been so consistent you kind of know what you're going to get from him.
That being said, Napier has been exceptionally brilliant in the tourney, especially in New York. In his last three games, the senior guard has knocked down 12-of-23 threes, and these aren't just wide-open shots. Many have been contested and come off the dribble. He's also getting to the line frequently—27 times in the tourney—and he's missed only twice there.
As for UConn's defense, it was at another level against the Spartans. The Huskies took away the paint, and Michigan State was able to make only seven baskets inside the three-point line. Their ball pressure also frustrated the Spartans into 16 turnovers. It will take another defensive performance like that to knock off Florida.
Reason to Sell: The American Athletic Conference team that most resembles Florida is Louisville. Both press. Both are exhausting to play because of that press and how good they are in the half court once you beat it. UConn played Louisville three times and lost three times by a combined 55 points.
The Huskies did play the Gators in December, but Donovan's team at that point was weakened by injuries and was still finding its way with Scottie Wilbekin only playing in his third game. On their home court, the Huskies needed a Napier buzzer-beater to beat a lesser Florida team than the one they'll see on Saturday.
Will Cut Down the Nets If... They play the kind of defense they played against Michigan State for two more games, and both Napier and Daniels are dominant.
The Huskies have nice talent, but they are not as solid up and down the lineup as the other three teams left. It's going to take some special performances from Napier and Daniels to win the title. Kemba Walker was able to do it three years ago, but that team didn't have to face anyone nearly as good as the Gators.
Title Odds: 10-1
The Road Ahead: The seeding would suggest the Badgers should be celebrating. The tape will suggest something entirely different to Bo Ryan. His team is not about to face a No. 8 seed; the Badgers are playing the preseason No. 1. Win that, and you could face postseason No. 1 in Florida.
Reason to Buy: Frank Kaminsky.
It's a toss-up between Shabazz Napier and Kaminsky as to who is the most difficult man to match up with right now left in this tournament.
At 7'0" with the ability to shoot the three, put the ball on the deck and score with his back to the basket, Kaminsky has become the most complete post player in the country.
If Willie Cauley-Stein cannot play because of his ankle injury, Kaminsky could present some matchup problems for the Wildcats, particularly if they try to guard him with Dakari Johnson. John Calipari might want to get Marcus Lee ready to play, as Lee would have a better shot with his athleticism.
The other option is to put Julius Randle on Kaminsky, but then Johnson would have to guard Sam Dekker, another big man who can play out on the perimeter.
The other reason to buy Wisconsin is Ryan. Look at what he did with almost a week to prepare for Baylor. He'll have more time for Kentucky, and unlike Michigan, Wisconsin has more size and depth up front to help deal with Kentucky's great size.
Reason to Sell: This is Ryan's most talented team, but the Badgers cannot match the ability on the other side of the ball. The Wildcats have already knocked off three really good teams in Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan. Sure, Wisconsin is playing great, but so were those three teams.
Will Cut Down the Nets If... The Badgers make their threes and can hang on the boards with Kentucky and whoever they play in the title game. The Wildcats are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and that's where they crushed Michigan.
Kaminsky also has to keep playing like he has been throughout the tournament. If he's that dominant for two more games, the Badgers have a chance.
Title Odds: 5-1
The Road Ahead: Kentucky has to go up against a team in Wisconsin that shares some similarities to Michigan. The Wolverines were extremely difficult to guard because they put four shooters on the floor. The Badgers can one-up that with a starting lineup of five capable outside shooters.
Get past Wisconsin and a possible fourth meeting with Florida could be next. The Gators are 3-0 against the 'Cats this year.
Reason to Buy: Talent.
The Wildcats are the only team left that has a future NBA player at every position, and Julius Randle is the most talented player left in this tournament. That didn't mean a whole lot during the regular season, but this team hardly resembles the squad that lost 10 games.
John Calipari has his guys trusting each other and playing their best in the final minutes of close games. As I wrote in my column on Sunday from Indy, here's how UK has finished games:
- Against Wichita State, Kentucky scored on each of its last nine possessions.
- Against Louisville, Kentucky scored on five of its last six possessions.
- Against Michigan, Kentucky scored on its final five possessions.
More pros and more poise. That's a tough combination to beat.
Reason to Sell: At some point, the 'Cats are going to have an off game, right? This team was never consistent during the regular season. And really that team, the one from the regular season, is the only one to doubt at this point.
If the 'Cats who showed up the last three games show up in Arlington, Texas, there's little reason to doubt them other than the Gators might just be the one team good enough to beat the version of UK we've been watching.
Will Cut Down the Nets If... Those freshmen keep playing with great confidence and as if no moment is too big for them. It's going to take two more performances just as good as what we've seen in the last three to win the title. In fact, to beat the Gators, the 'Cats may have to reach another level. After watching what they did in Indy, I believe it's possible. I'm picking Florida, but I'm saying there's a chance.
Title Odds: 3-1
The Road Ahead: Florida has to face the scariest guard in the country right now, Shabazz Napier. The Gators play great defense, but Napier can negate any defense as the best shot-maker in college basketball. The Gators are the more complete team, but they've been burned once before by Napier, who drilled a buzzer-beater to win the first matchup between these two teams back in December.
Reason to Buy: What have these two teams done since that first meeting?
Well, the Gators have won 30 straight and the Huskies have lost eight times.
Connecticut is playing its best basketball all season, but so is Florida, and as LaDainian Tomlinson would say, Florida's better is better than your better.
UConn also hasn't faced a defense as good as Florida's all season, and that includes back in early December against this same team. Only that wasn't this team. The Gators were missing freshmen Kasey Hill and Chris Walker that day, and Scottie Wilbekin was playing in only his third game after sitting out the first five because of suspension.
UConn's defense was great against Michigan State, but Florida's has been consistently great. The Gators haven't allowed more than a point per possession against any opponent since Feb. 22 in a win at Ole Miss.
One major advantage against Michigan State that UConn had was Napier against Keith Appling, who was a shell of himself because of a wrist injury that took away all his confidence late in the year. If Napier is looking like the best point guard in the country right now, Wilbekin isn't far behind. And Wilbekin has a better supporting cast.
Reason to Sell: Ummm, should I just skip this section for the Gators?
It's hard to bet against Billy Donovan's team. But if I have to pick some reason to doubt the Gators, it would be that UConn will have the best player on the court in Napier. But like I said before, Wilbekin isn't that far behind, and he's the best defensive guard Napier will face all year.
Title Odds: Even
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.