The invitation to this year’s Final Four seemed to have specific rules: No upstarts or Cinderellas. Big boys only.
Yes, we’re well aware that Kentucky was a No. 8 seed and UConn was a 7. But c’mon. These are two power programs with storied histories, each with a championship under their belt within the past four seasons.
Following a string of NCAA tournaments with mid-major party crashers, the Final Four is going back to the big time with Florida and Wisconsin joining the Wildcats and Huskies in North Texas. We’ve got a rundown of what to look for:
Florida. The top overall seed in the NCAA tournament has played like it by extending its winning streak to 30 games.
Kentucky. John Calipari’s latest group of one-and-dones needed a little time to get going. Once the roll started, no one has been able to stop it.
Wisconsin. The Badgers are feisty, fundamentally sound and one of those teams opponents hate to play.
UConn. The Huskies won the 2011 behind Kemba Walker. Shabazz Napier is the one-man gang this time.
Shabazz Napier, UConn. A 6-foot-1 point guard who can do it all and had a great mentor in Kemba Walker.
Julius Randle, Kentucky. The projected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick is big, athletic and often unstoppable.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. When he’s hitting his 3-pointers, this 7-footer is all but unguardable.
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida. From being asked to transfer by his own coach to becoming one of college basketball’s best closers.
Patrick Young, Florida. The Gators’ big man is like a linebacker in basketball shorts.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky. Hit the winning jumper against Michigan despite struggling with his shot. Has a twin brother who’s not bad, either.
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin. He’s scrappy, versatile and a good shooter – a perfect fit for the Badgers.
Ryan Boatwright, UConn. Napier’s backcourt sidekick can shoot and has become a point-guard stopper on defense.
Billy Donovan, Florida. So much for not being able to get the Gators to the Final Four without NBA-ready players. Might be the best coaching job of his career.
Calipari, Kentucky. The slick coach with the designer suits might irritate some, but he sure can recruit players – and win games.
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin. His has been the feel-good story so far, making the Final Four for the first time as a coach after taking his late father, Butch, every year since 1976 as a birthday gift.
Kevin Ollie, UConn. Thrust into a difficult situation following the retirement of Jim Calhoun and NCAA sanctions last season. Managed it all incredibly well, particularly for a first-time head coach.
0_Points by Kentucky’s Marcus Lee had in the 10 games prior to scoring 10 against Michigan in the Elite Eight.
0.000051_Percentage of people (612 total) who accurately predicted the Final Four out of 11 million entries in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.
2_SEC teams (Kentucky and Florida) in the Final Four out of three that made it into the NCAA tournament.
3_Teams that Kentucky beat in the bracket that were in the Final Four a year ago (Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan).
4_Times UConn’s men’s and women’s teams have reached the Final Four in the same season, most of any school.
8_Years since there were no repeat Final Four teams before this season.
8.1_Turnovers per game by Wisconsin, best in the nation.
16_Straight NCAA tournament appearances by Wisconsin, most among the Final Four teams.
73_Years since Wisconsin’s last and only national championship.
2,720_Points scored by Wisconsin this season, a school record.
Connecticut: Actress Meg Ryan, physicist David Lee, actor Ron Palillo (Horshack!), screenwriter/producer Jeremy Leven.
Florida: Actress Faye Dunaway, Nobel Prize winners Marshall Nirenberg and Robert Grubbs, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, Wendy’s owner Dave Thomas.
Kentucky: Actress Ashley Judd, Sen. Mitch McConnell, astronaut Story Musgrave, Nobel Prize winner William Lipscomb.
Wisconsin: Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, Vice President Dick Cheney, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, actor Don Ameche, singers Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs.
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