2014 NCAA Tournament Final Four Simulation Prediction From WhatIfSports.com image

2014 NCAA Tournament Final Four Preview

We preview the 2014 NCAA Tournament Final Four

WhatIfSports.com
Update: March 31, 2014

Update: John Calipari doubts that Willie Cauley-Stein will be able to play this weekend due to an injured ankle. Typically, we would adjust Kentucky's lineup accordingly and re-simulate the Final Four to determine how the Wildcats would fare without Cauley-Stein. However, Cauley-Stein's replacement, Marcus lee, adds a challenging wrinkle. Lee is a McDonald's All-American freshman that has been relegated to garbage time most of the season, averaging just 6.1 minutes per game. However, he demonstrated against Michigan that he is more than capable of replacing Cauley-Stein's production. His performance against the Wolverines (10 points, eight rebounds) was more in line with Cauley-Stein's typical numbers than Lee's regular-season output. As a result, our prediction is actually more accurate if we leave Cauley-Stein's statistical model in the simulation, rather than replacing it with Lee's statistical model.

While not the Final Four most expected, the remaining schools represent a strong core of elite basketball pedigrees. Florida, Connecticut and Kentucky have combined to win five of the last 10 national championships. Even Wisconsin, which hasn't been to the Final Four since 2000, is no stranger to the big stage. The Badgers have participated in 16 consecutive NCAA tournaments, advancing to the Sweet 16 seven times during that stretch.

Connecticut's run is, perhaps, the most remarkable as the Huskies needed overtime to squeak by No. 10 seed St. Joseph's. Since then, the Huskies have dismissed the East Region's No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds to advance to the Final Four.

Kentucky, meanwhile, is only beginning to live up to expectations as the preseason's No. 1-ranked team. It may have taken longer than expected, but coach John Calipari finally has his squad humming. Toss the No. 8 seed aside because the Wildcats are certainly a threat to cut down the nets on Monday.

Florida began the tournament as the team to beat and that status hasn't changed. However, the remaining field is a harrowing one for the Gators. Florida's two losses came to Wisconsin and UConn, and their last matchup with Kentucky resulted in a one-point victory. Still, if Billy Donovan's team continues to play to tenacious defense, the championship is theirs to lose.

Florida vs. Connecticut

Florida is a team on a mission. The Gators have beaten each of their four NCAA Tournament opponents by double digits - an accomplishment that will become increasingly difficult going forward.

Against Dayton in the Elite Eight, Florida overcame a feisty Flyers defense that harassed the Gators into 37.5 percent shooting from the field. Florida countered with trips to the free throw line, where the team connected on 21 of 28 attempts, including an 8-for-10 showing from Scottie Wilbekin. Dayton, meanwhile, had just eight free throw attempts, connecting on six. Rebounding continued to be a strength for the Gators as well. They enjoyed a +11 advantage on the glass against the Flyers and have outrebounded their last five opponents.

Free throws were an important storyline in Connecticut's Elite Eight matchup with Michigan State. Both teams struggled through poor shooting performances, but only the Huskies countered by attacking the basket. Connecticut made the most of 22 free throw attempts as they buried 21 freebies. Michigan State leaned on its three-point shooting and made 11 treys, but needed 29 attempts to accomplish the feat. The Spartans shot just eight free throws.

UConn's Shabazz Napier will be relied upon heavily in the Final Four. He's averaging 23.3 points, 4.5 assists, two steals and six boards through four tournament games. In December, when the Huskies edged Florida 65-64, Napier led the way with 26 points, five triples and a buzzer-beating jumper from 15 feet out.

Don't read too much into the result of Florida and Connecticut's early-season bout though. The Gators have since strung together 30 consecutive victories. UConn will need some hot shooting, aggressive defense and a small dose of luck to advance to the title game.

The pick: Florida 68 - Connecticut 66

Wisconsin vs. Kentucky

Bo Ryan carries a perpetual scowl that only a national championship can cure. This year's offensive-minded Badgers team has the tools to provide just that remedy.

In its Elite Eight matchup with Arizona, Wisconsin edged out the Wildcats in overtime as Frank Kaminsky submitted one of the best performances of the tournament. Kaminsky totaled 28 points and 11 rebounds, including 3-for-5 shooting from behind the arc. It was an encore to his 19 points and six blocks to lead the Badgers past Baylor in the Sweet 16.

Kentucky also needed a heroic display to punch its Final Four ticket. Through 35 minutes against Michigan, Aaron Harrison had totaled just three points. He then connected on three treys in the game's final five minutes as the Wildcats outpaced Michigan. Also offering a sizeable contribution was Marcus Lee. The freshman forward, who had recorded just one minute in UK's first three tournament games, logged 15 minutes in place of the injured Willie Cauley-Stein. Lee chipped in 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Since Cauley-Stein's status remains questionable, Lee's services may be required against Wisconsin as well.

The Badgers will continue to rely heavily on Kaminsky as his perimeter game may be one of the Badgers' greatest assets to counter Kentucky's size. If Kaminsky is connecting, he'll stretch the floor and open up the interior for guards Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson.

Kentucky's freshmen must continue to display poise and confidence beyond their years for the Wildcats to advance. No Badger lead is safe, as the Wildcats have proven they can rally from behind.

The pick: Kentucky 74 - Wisconsin 73

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Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jwestrich@whatifsports.com.

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