Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Gators, Badgers will decide championship
Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) flies by UCLA guard Norman Powell (4) and UCLA forward Travis Wear, right, during the first half in a regional semifinal game at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Thursday, March 27, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
For years pundits and talking heads, sometimes called experts, have argued that the teams making the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four should be reseeded or the bracket should be changed to get the best matchups.
For example, this year No. 1 seeded Florida plays No. 7 Connecticut and No. 2 seed Wisconsin faces No. 8 Kentucky.
Reseeding is subjective, but it probably would have kept Florida No. 1, Kentucky would have jumped to No. 2 by virtue of having the toughest road into the Final Four, Wisconsin would be No. 3 and UConn would be No. 4 and, yes, you would still have the same semifinal matchups as you do Saturday.
If you switched the matchups so that No. 1 faced No. 8, you would have Florida taking on Kentucky for the fourth time this season. No one really wants that. That could be especially true for the Gators. It is extremely difficult to beat a team four times in one season.
This is a surprise Final Four but a good one, and for the first time in a long time the SEC can hold its head high with teams from its conference comprising half the field.
Here is one man’s opinion of the semifinal games:
KENTUCKY VS. WISCONSIN
There is a reason CBS picked this to be the primetime game Saturday night. It has the makings of a great game with two teams that not only don’t mirror each other, their recruiting philosophies are as different as their play.
The Wildcats, a 1 ½ -point favorite, are wildly talented with a roster that has seven McDonald’s All-Americans. The Badgers’ roster has seven guys who were either academic All-Americans or in the National Honor Society in high school.
The day before Arkansas beat Duke for the 1994 national championship, a national writer predicted the smartest team would win. He was right. The Razorbacks played smarter than the Blue Devils.
They played smarter because they executed better, and that’s what it will come down to for Kentucky and Wisconsin - which team executes and controls the tempo.
If it’s up-tempo the Wildcats could blow out the Badgers, but Wisconsin is incredibly disciplined on both ends of the court.
Its offense is predicated on five players being interchangeable. They are in constant motion or setting screens. They look for high-percentage shots first, but the Badgers have a green light on open three-pointers. They shot 770 three-pointers this season and made 289.
Kentucky seemed dysfunctional at times this season, but since starting the tournament it has played much better as a team.
The key statistics in this game could be that Wisconsin had 457 assists and only 299 turnovers this season, while Kentucky had 426 assists but 464 turnovers. Prediction: Wisconsin wins 64-60.
UCONN VS. FLORIDA
This is something of a rematch since one of the Gators’ two losses this season was at UConn, 65-64, but Florida has not lost since and is riding a record 30-game winning streak.
Both teams are loaded with veterans. The Huskies’ eight-man rotation includes one freshman, two seniors and a graduate student. TheGators, a 6 ½ -point favorite, start four seniors who have played in a combined 543 games and started 265 games.
The Gators are tenacious on defense, and in their four NCAA Tournament victories have allowed an average of only 55 points while scoring an average of just more than 67. The Huskies’ offense has been their defense as they’ve outscored opponents 77-69 in the tournament.
UConn Coach Kevin Ollie is making his first Final Four appearance, and since 1990 coaches making their first Final Four appearance are 5-32. Prediction: Florida wins 65-59.
Sports, Pages 19 on 04/04/2014