The four teams that will duel it out in AT&T Stadium have battled their way through the fields. Each has had to fight through some adversity on its journey but the play of a few specific players will determine the outcome for the remaining teams. Wisconsin will have to be strong on the glass against a big, physical Kentucky team. Kentucky will have to guard the Badgers motion offense and not allow them to slow down the game and score points late in the shot clock. Florida will try to slow down Shabazz Napier‘s Kemba Walker impression, while Connecticut will try to handle Florida’s tough defense.
Here are the x-factors to watch on Saturday and Monday night.
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Big 10, 30â€“7 (12-6)
Road to the Final Four: (15) America, (7) Oregon, (6) Baylor, (1) Arizona
X-Factor: Frank Kaminsky, F
Wisconsin has advanced to its first Final Four under head coach Bo Ryan in large part of the play of Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky played a big part in the Badgers’ Elite Eight victory over Arizona. The 7-0 junior had 28 points and 11 rebounds in their 64-63 overtime thriller. Kaminsky’s ability to knock down the long ball, shooting 37.8 percent from three this season, makes him lethal in Wisconsin’s pick-and-pop offense. He can score in the post and is comfortable handling the ball out on the perimeter. Against Baylor in the Sweet 16, Kaminsky had six blocks, way above his average of 1.7 per game for the season. He is averaging 18.5 points per game in the tournament and has been a nightmare for opposing big men.
Wisconsin does a great job of spacing the floor on offense, leaving four players out on the perimeter. That leaves Kaminsky alone down low where he can go one-on-one. Kaminsky can also take his defender away from the basket because of his ability to shoot the basketball. Against Kentucky, however, Kaminsky will have to stay out of foul trouble and be able to hold his own on the glass. Kentucky is a fantastic rebounding team and Kaminsky is the only big man that starts for Wisconsin. He will have to limit Kentucky’s second-chance points and play good defense against Kentucky’s big men.
If Kaminsky can force Kentucky’s big men to play defense out on the perimeter and move them away from the basket, Wisconsin will have the edge Saturday night.
SEC, 36â€“2 (18-0)
Road to the Final Four: (16) Albany, (9) Pittsburgh, (4) UCLA, (11) Dayton
X-Factor: Scottie Wilbekin, G
Wilbekin has been the leader for the Gators all year long. He is the floor general on offense and anchors Florida’s dynamic defense. He averages 1.7 steals per game and makes all the hustle plays for the Gators. The senior is playing his best offensive basketball of the year for head coach Billy Donovan in the most crucial part of the season. In four tournament games he is averaging 16.8 points a night and shooting 51 percent from three.
For Wilbekin, his biggest test of the tournament is in front of him. Covering Shabazz Napier and keeping him in check will determine whether or not his team advances to the championship game. In Florida’s first matchup against Connecticut, Napier went off for 26 points and hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer as the Huskies handed the Gators their most recent loss of the season (that was December 2). Wilbekin will have to be able to control Napier and not allow him to get easy looks at the bucket. He must try and contest Napier’s jump shot and not allow Napier to get him into foul trouble.
If Wilbekin can lock him up, it will force Connecticut to rely on someone else offensively. Napier hit 5-of-8 threes in their matchup earlier this season. Wilbekin had 15 points of his own but his defense will determine whether or not Florida moves on.
AAC, 30â€“8 (12-6)
Road to the Final Four: (10) St. Joe’s, (2) Villanova, (3) Iowa State, (4) Michigan State
X-Factor: DeAndre Daniels
Connecticut’s magical run to the Final Four has had a lot to do with the play of DeAndre Daniels. Daniels is averaging 17 points per game, four more then he averaged throughout the regular season.
Daniels had a double-double in the Huskies big win over Iowa State, scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 boards. He is shooting 44 percent from three-point land this year and at 6-9, his length and ability to shoot the ball from the outside makes him tough to guard.
Daniels will have to have a great game if the Huskies want to advance to the championship game. He will be going up against the force of Patric Young, Will Yeugete and Casey Prather down low for Florida. Florida is tough and physical and Daniels will have to be strong inside to give Connecticut a scoring presence inside the paint. Daniels had 14 points and seven rebounds in their matchup earlier in the season but has taken on a bigger role as the season progressed.
Daniels will be the X-factor on both offense and defense for Connecticut if they want to hand the Gators another loss this season.
SEC, 28â€“10 (12-6)
Road to the Final Four: (9) Kansas State, (1) Wichita State, (4) Louisville, (2) Michigan
X-Factor: Andrew and Aaron Harrison
Kentucky is on a roll and looks like it may be the team destined to win the whole thing. The Wildcats start five freshman across the board and have ridden the momentum they had late in the SEC Championship all the way to Arlington. The No. 1 preseason-ranked team saw itself fall apart late in the season before growing up right in front of our eyes on the biggest stages. The Harrison twins have matured in a quick time-span since the losing streak in the end stretch of the season and are now playing their best basketball of the season. They have controlled the offense and have stayed positive and poised in tough moments.
Aaron Harrison has scored in double-digits in all four tournament games and hit two crucial three-pointers late against Michigan to push Kentucky past the Wolverines and into the Final Four. Andrew Harrison was sensational in their win over Wichita State, scoring 20 points, and had 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds against Louisville.
The Harrison twins just have to continue playing hard, poised and focused for 40 minutes like they have late in the season. They have been clutch in big moments, hitting big threes against Louisville and Michigan while knocking down crucial late free throws against Wichita State. Wisconsin is a very tough, veteran team that may give the Harrison twins some trouble. They will have to avoid turning it over and letting Wisconsin get out into transition.
However, the twins play on the defensive end will determine the Wildcats fate. They will have to be able to guard Wisconsin out on the perimeter for 35 seconds, as the Badgers love to use the full shot clock. The twins will also have to do a good job hedging picks and must not try and slide under ball screens, allowing Wisconsin to execute their pick-and-pop offense. If Wisconsin can get open looks from deep, it could be a long night for Kentucky.
Who will win the two semifinal games and meet in the NCAA Championship Game?
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