Loughran: Semis feature intriguing matchup
Kit Loughran | Friday, April 4, 2014
It’s now officially the end of March, and after this month of Madness, only four teams remain. Of the 68 teams that started the NCAA tournament, only Wisconsin, Kentucky, Florida and Connecticut remain standing. This Saturday, these four teams will walk onto the court, under the lights, in an arena filled with fans for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — to play in a Final Four game.
We’ve witnessed the upsets, endured the pain of seeing our brackets crumble to pieces and loved every second of those overtime wins. The first round of the tournament might have been one of the most historic in terms of upsets, but after three weeks of play, we’re right where many of us thought we would roughly be, come the Final Four. Each of these teams has the talent and strategy to make it to the championship game — to have its “one shining moment.”
Both games will be must-watch events. But, if you had to choose just one, I’d recommend watching the Gators take on the Huskies. Here’s a quick shot of how these two Final Four contenders will fare against one another.
The Gators have been under coach Billy Donovan’s guidance for 18 years now. His spread pick-and-roll offense has helped put the Gators in their current place among college basketball’s elite. Their offensive play usually begins with a high point guard-power forward ball screen. It doesn’t stop there. Donovan makes sure the ball swings from side to side, and from there the wings receive side screens to create angles for rolls. The post players post, then screen away and re-post.
Florida’s strength though is its defense. The Gators are ranked No. 1 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. They play some zone, but it is their man-to-man that is essentially flawless. This defense has been key for the Gators, who are on a 30-game win streak. And with the leadership of senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, the Gators are in the hands of perhaps one of the best playmakers on the court. Wilbekin is currently averaging 16.8 points and 3 assists in the Big Dance.
Huskies coach Kevin Ollie’s approach to the game of basketball is quite simple: “It’s a players game.” Starting most of their plays from a screen, the Huskies’ offense is characterized by pick-and-roll play. Their senior guard Shabazz Napier could be described as unguardable on these pick-and-rolls. Napier, along with junior guard Ryan Boatright, is at the top of Connecticut’s roster in usage rate. Napier scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half of Connecticut’s Elite Eight victory over Michigan State, and he is averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in the tournament. Pretty unbelievable.
Defensively, the Huskies are almost always in man-to-man, regularly forcing teams into difficult shots. Connecticut’s opponents make only 39.2 percent of their field goals and the Huskies block almost six shots per game.
Connecticut already has one win over the Gators this season. And if you look at Napier and his performance in the last few seconds in that game against the Gators, then you might be tempted to write Florida off right now. But don’t get too ahead of yourself, at least not yet. Florida has the ability to guard incredibly well and can match up with anyone. And their man-to-man defense is the perfect combat to guarding the long, perimeter-style of the Huskies. Connecticut may space the floor and maneuver well in the lane, but the Huskies are not known for seizing their own misses. Florida, on the other hand, doesn’t show those flaws. Wilbekin’s one-on-one defense and the Florida’s talent for closing off pick-and-roll plays make the Gators seem like the team to pick. But, if Napier goes off (as he currently is on track to do), then Connecticut looks that much more promising.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.