FLORIDA (36-2) vs. CONNECTICUT (30-8)
■ Tipoff: 3 p.m. PDT today
■ How they got here: The Gators, seeded No. 1 in the South Regional, have won four tournament games by an average of 12.5 points. Their closest margin of victory is 10. Connecticut, a No. 7 seed that survived the East Regional, used the motivation of a second-round overtime win against St. Joseph’s to knock off No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State and No. 4 Michigan State.
■ Why the Gators will win: 55. 45. 68. 52. Those are how many points tournament opponents have managed against Florida. In the monstrosity that is AT&T Stadium, any side that defends with the physicality of Florida has a great chance to advance. Florida gives nothing away at the rim, meaning Connecticut needs to make jump shots (and a lot of them) to win. That won’t be easy in this big a place. Florida isn’t a great offensive team, but it will get enough points in transition off its multitude of presses and will run enough staggered and slip ball screens to find shots. The Gators are definitely good enough to score in the low-to-mid 60s here. Their defense can make that hold up.
■ Why the Huskies will win: They are not married to a specific style. Connecticut doesn’t play ultra fast, but it can. It does a good job switching defensive looks when playing ball screens, a big key against Florida. The Huskies are terrific at turning teams over and finishing with baskets at the other end. They get a lot of easy scores. If the sight lines aren’t as big a bother as some believe, UConn from 3-point range can beat anyone here. Oh, yes, it also shoots 74 percent from the free-throw line and is making 88 percent during the tournament. If it’s close down the stretch, that’s huge.
■ One weakness that could doom Florida’s chances: There is a reason teams tend to zone the Gators. They aren’t a great shooting side, with only guards Michael Frazier II and Scottie Wilbekin able to consistently hurt opponents from the perimeter.
■ One weakness that could doom Connecticut’s chances: It’s twofold — you can drive the Huskies all night long and there isn’t a great post presence inside to protect the rim. So you attack and attack and attack.
■ Matchup to watch: Wilbekin vs. Shabazz Napier (UConn). Wilbekin might be the nation’s best on-ball defender not named Aaron Craft. Like the guard from Ohio State, Wilbekin lacks great size and athleticism, but he’s physical enough to bother a smaller player like Napier. Problem is, the latter is as skilled off ball screens and isolation plays as he is off pick-and-rolls and pulling up in transition. Napier is averaging 23 points, six rebounds and 4.5 assists in the tournament. He’s almost impossible to stay in front of. Wilbekin gets the chance to do so today.
■ Possible unsung hero: Ryan Boatright (UConn). Napier is a wonderful player, but if the Huskies are to advance, a second threat needs to come up big. Boatright is a 6-foot junior guard who averages 12 points and 3.3 assists. He has great ball skills, is an excellent pick-and-roll player and really good off the dribble. If the Gators can’t limit Boatright and Napier continues to produce as he has this tournament, UConn could be playing Monday night.
■ Did you know?: Florida has won 30 straight and it’s last loss came Dec. 2 … at Connecticut.
■ Key stat: Florida joins Michigan State and Duke as the only teams to reach a national semifinal while holding all of its first four opponents to under 70 points.
■ Quote to note: “Getting to a Final Four is really hard. The last three years in (the Elite Eight), people were saying, ‘Geez, he can’t get back.’ And imagine had we just gone to the Final Four every time, they’d say, ‘Geez, he can’t win another national championship.’ It never ends.” — Florida coach Billy Donovan
■ Prediction: Florida 66, Connecticut 58
WISCONSIN (30-7) vs. KENTUCKY (28-10)
■ Tipoff: Approximately 5:49 p.m. PDT today
■ How they got here: The Badgers as a No. 2 seed advanced to their first Final Four under 13-year coach Bo Ryan by taking out American, Oregon, Baylor and top-seeded Arizona in the West Regional. In advancing from the Midwest Regional, No. 8 seed Kentucky beat Kansas State and then, in succession, Final Four teams from last year in No. 1 Wichita State, No. 4 and defending national champion Louisville and No. 2 Michigan.
■ Why the Badgers will win: “Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense; working in a well-organized and competent way.” Such is the definition of efficient. Such is Wisconsin basketball this season. Ball movement. Shot fakes. Spacing. Shooters all over the floor. Bigs who hit 3-pointers and guards who can post up for baskets. Unselfish to a fault. The Badgers still run the swing offense as a primary look, but are versatile enough that they can adjust and wait until the defense makes a mistake to create other scoring chances. It’s the best Wisconsin offense in, like, forever. And it’s about to play a Kentucky defense that isn’t the best in, like, forever.
■ Why the Wildcats will win: At some point in the last month, coach John Calipari convinced his young team that it’s better to play 5-on-5 than 1-on-5. Seven freshmen are among Kentucky’s top eight players and there is no team in North Texas with a higher level of talent. Offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line are keys to winning in the tournament, and Kentucky does both as well as any team still standing. It’s one thing to scout all of Kentucky’s isolation plays; it’s another to stop them. The Wildcats are the closest to an NBA team as the college game has, able to score off attacking one-on-one and having bigger, stronger, more athletic players crash the boards and clean up misses.
■ One weakness that could doom Wisconsin’s chances: This isn’t your grandfather’s Wisconsin offense. Thing is, it’s also not his defense. The Badgers aren’t great against ball screens (they usually don’t switch) and can allow a bunch of 3-pointers to hot shooters.
■ One weakness that could doom Kentucky’s chances: The best defensive option against Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky is sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein. Problem: He is likely out with an injured left ankle, leaving the Wildcats vulnerable in a key spot.
■ Matchup to watch: Sam Dekker (Wisconsin) against Julius Randle (Kentucky). On paper, it could be a long night for the sophomore Dekker. He has size (6-8, 220 pounds) as a wing player, but freshman Randle (6-9, 250) might be the most NBA-ready player in college. Dekker has defended undersized forwards well, but now he gets a look at an entirely different level of size and quickness. It’s length against power, and Randle will lean on Dekker each time down court. Forty minutes later, how much will the latter have left in the tank?
■ Possible unsung hero: Alex Poythress (Kentucky). He is 6-8 sophomore forward whose numbers (5.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg) won’t jump off any page, but he provides the sort of depth up front the Wildcats desperately need when others get in foul trouble. Kentucky beat Michigan in the Elite Eight because of, in large part, the defense supplied by Poythress over 18 minutes. “We all look at him like a beast,” Calipari said. “I’m telling you — if we’re going to do something special here this weekend, you are all going to be talking about him.”
■ Did you know?: Kentucky is the first program to win an Elite Eight game when starting five freshmen since Michigan’s Fab Five in 1992.
■ Key stat: Wisconsin is 17-0 against teams outside the Big Ten Conference this season, including a 59-53 win against a Florida team that has already beaten Kentucky three times.
■ Quote to note: “It’s way different. It feels like you’re playing outside. It’s an insane venue. I think it’s too big, honestly. Hopefully, we’ll figure it out.” — Kaminsky on the size of AT&T Stadium
■ Prediction: Kentucky 72, Wisconsin 69