March bracket busters leave basketball fans in madness

Ray Bressette

What began as a 64-team battle for a National Championship three weeks ago is winding down, as the men’s Division I basketball Final Four tournament matchups are set for 6:09 p.m. and 8:49 p.m. Saturday, April 5, in Arlington, Texas, with the winners advancing to the championship game at 9:10 p.m. Monday, April 7 in Arlington.

The University of Florida Gators are the only No. 1-seed to advance to the Final Four, as the top-ranked South region team. They eliminated the No. 11 University of Dayton Flyers in a 62-52 victory Saturday, March 29 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn.

The Flyers were the Cinderella team of this year’s tournament. However, the Gators were able to end the magical run for Dayton Saturday, as senior guard Scottie Wilbekin scored a game-high 23 points. Wilbekin, named most outstanding player of his region, led his team to a 36-2 record this season. His team has won their last 30 games. The last loss Florida suffered was on Monday, Dec. 2 against the No. 7 University of Connecticut Huskies, who they will meet in the Final Four at 6:09 p.m. Saturday, April 5 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Connecticut comes off a 60-54 upset over the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans in the East Regional Finals on Sunday, March 30 at Madison Square Garden.

Michigan State held a 25-21 lead at the half Sunday, but 16 Spartan turnovers led the Huskies to capitalize on the opportunities and advance to the Final Four.

Senior guard Shabazz Napier put up 25 points on the Spartans and captured the region’s most outstanding player. He scored a game-high 26 points against Florida when the teams met up in December. The Huskies need to rely on him to carry his team past the Gators for a second time this season and advance to his team’s second national championship game in four seasons.

Unfortunately for them, I can’t see the Huskies ending the Gators’ run with Florida’s offensive weapons. Even if Connecticut can take Wilbekin out of the game, the Gators still have senior forward Casey Prather, sophomore guard Michael Frazier and senior forward Patric Young.

On the other side of the tournament, the University of Wisconsin Badgers, ranked second in the West region, won an overtime thriller over the No. 1 University of Arizona Wildcats, 64-63, on Saturday, March 29 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., in the West Regional Final to advance to their first Final Four since 2000.

Junior forward Frank Kaminsky connected for 28 points for the Badgers, six of which came in overtime, and had 11 rebounds to take down the Wildcats in the one-point victory. The Badgers will need to help out Kaminsky this weekend as they take on the No. 8 University of Kentucky Wildcats at 8:49 p.m. Saturday, April 5 in Arlington, Texas.

Kentucky defeated the No. 2 University of Michigan Wolverines, 73-71, in the Midwest Regional Finals Sunday, March 30 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The game was tied at 72 in the final minute of the game, before freshman guard Aaron Harrison hit a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining, giving Kentucky the lead and the win. The Wildcats offense has great depth. Freshman forward Julius Randle put up a double-double for Kentucky, scoring 16 points on offense and 11 rebounds.

While the odds are on Kentucky’s side to advance to the National Championship game, Kaminsky is going to be a seven-foot tall problem for Kentucky that I don’t think the Wildcats will have an answer for. Wisconsin’s run is going to have a tough task against Florida in the title game. At this point, it’s anybody’s game to win, but the Florida Gators look like the team that’s ready to take home the championship.