UConn- Florida Final Four and NIT Championship Previews

THE FINAL FOUR IS JUST ...ROUND THE CORNER AND WE HAVE THE FLORIDA-UCONN PREVIEW PLUS KEY NEWS/NOTES/CHARTS...

PLUS AN NIT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW AS SMU BATTLES MINNESOTA IN A "GENERATION GAP"SIDELINE SHOWDOWN

By Jim Hurley:

If you've been tuned in to what all the so-called experts have been saying about this Saturday's NCAA Tournament Final 4 than you know these ladies/gents can go a little overboard with their enthusiasm and their hyperbole...

But we will agree with one thing that we keep hearing over and over again and that is Final Four Saturday is -without a doubt -one of the very best sports days on the entire calendar!

Consider that we've all had nearly a full week to digest what just happened last weekend in Elite 8 action -a dominating win by #1 Florida over Dayton, an epic overtime win by Wisconsin against once-upon-a-time #1 Arizona, a scintillating triumph by "home-team"UConn against mighty Michigan State and that terrific Kentucky last-second triumph over Michigan -and now everyone's champing at the proverbial bit to get the Final Four in full gear and the anticipation is just great.

Maybe the best part of this story is you have two college basketball bluebloods back in the Final Four -but neither UConn nor Kentucky was expected to be there while coming in as #7 and #8 seeds, respectively, in their East and Midwest Regions plus Florida vaunts into this weekend on a spectacular 30-game winning streak and there's a Wisconsin team that may not wow you with athletic abilities but, boy, do they play to its team strengths.

The Gators -no doubt -are the betting favorites to win their third national title in the past nine years but in an NCAA Tournament in which we've had 18 outright underdog winners (or nearly 30 percent of the games won straight out by the point-grabbing sides) will anyone be really/truly shocked here is the dogs had their way straight through Monday's NCAA Tournament Championship Game?
Hmmmm.

Okay, so we'll get to the first of the Final Four previews in just a minute -remember we'll bring you Kentucky vs. Wisconsin in tomorrow's jam-packed edition of Jim Sez -but first this quick-hitter reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers steamrolled their way through the month of March with loads of College Basketball winners and there's more on the way now that we're into April! Get in now on the NCAA Tournament's Final Four, tonight's NIT Championship Game from New York City plus the remaining CBI and CIT Tournies too -just go online here online or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 and we'll send you straight into the winner's circle. Hey, we're also banging out lots of NBA Winners too these days and so go ahead and join the fun and profits today with all the hardwood action this month.

NCAA TOURNAMENT -FINAL FOUR GAME PREVIEW
AT&T Stadium -Arlington, TX

#7 CONNECTICUT (30-8) vs. #1 FLORIDA (36-2) -6:09 p.m. ET, TBS
Sometimes it just all comes down to numbers: Note that through the first four games of their NCAA Tournament run, the Florida Gators have held foes to a per-game average of only 55 points -amazing stuff when you consider the day-and-age of the three-point shot, the shot clock and normally quicker-paced offensive attacks -and then keep in mind that Connecticut's averaged nearly 77 points a game while navigating its way thus far through this tourney and it doesn't take Dr. James Naismith to tell you this:

If the Huskies can ratchet up the speed of this game, get off 60-plus field-goal attempts (note they got off only 49 in that Elite 8 triumph over Michigan State last Sunday afternoon) and go for 10-or-more triples here than coach Kevin Ollie's team will have a legit shot to steal this one in North Texas.

So, that means guards Shabazz Napier (25 points against Sparty last weekend) and Ryan Boatright (11 points and 4 steals versus Michigan State) must impose their will on this game and that won't be easy while operating against physical/smart senior G Scottie Wilbekin who has merely taken over games in this tourney against the likes of Pittsburgh and UCLA.

Wilbekin is the defensive pulse of this stop-you-in-your-tracks Gators club plus he's great at handling the pressure both late in the shot clock and at the end of the half/game and so we believe UConn must make Wilbekin work extra-hard on "D"here and maybe sap him of some strength and make G Michael Frazier II (only two trifectas and 10 points in that Elite 8 win against Dayton) and mates beat you here.
Hey, if Frazier gets a hot hand from deep, the Huskies are just gonna have to live with it!

No doubt Florida figures to have the backboard advantage in this game as C/F Patric Young and friends have lots of ways to pull down rebounds and one real key here will be to see if outlet passes to Wilbekin and slasher Casey Prather allow the SEC team to score some easy hoops or will the up-tempo pace eventually play into UConn's collective hands?

Florida boss-man Billy Donovan is no stranger to these big-stage games having won those back-to-back titles in 2006 and '07 and -while everyone continues to say that he has no NBA "first-rounders"on this team -the fact is Florida's sum-is-greater-than-the-parts defense makes ...em especially tough to beat as evidenced by all the low shooting percentages against 'em in this tourney: Check it out... the four opponents that Florida has beaten so far in this year's NCAA Tournament have shot 39.6 percent (Dayton), just 42.2 percent (UCLA), 37.3 percent (Pittsburgh) and 39.2 percent (Albany). Wow!

Tell us right now if Connecticut's Niels Giffey is gonna keep missing those wide-open jumpers and if either Napier or Boatright is gonna have an "off night"and we'll tell you how much Florida's gonna win this game by, okay?

Now, here's the UConn Huskies' NCAA Tournament path to the Final Four...

CONNECTICUT

DATE

WINNER

SPREAD

LOSER

SCORE

3-20 Connecticut - 5 St. Joseph's 89-81 (OT)
3-22 Connecticut + 4.5 Villanova 77-65
3-28 Connecticut PK Iowa State 81-76
3-20 Connecticut + 5 Michigan State 60-54

Now, here's the Florida Gators' NCAA Tournament path to the Final Four...

FLORIDA

DATE

WINNER

SPREAD

LOSER

SCORE

3-20 Florida
- 22
Albany 67-55
3-22 Florida
- 5.5
Pittsburgh 61-45
3-27 Florida
- 5
UCLA 79-68
3-29 Florida
- 10
Dayton 62-52

 

NIT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

This year's NIT Championship has that experience vs. youth look when you check out SMU's Larry Brown against Minnesota's Richard Pitino... now wouldn't it be something tonight if "dad"whispered some key strategic points to his son from behind the Golden Gophers' bench where Rick Pitino sat in Tuesday's wild OT win against Florida State?
Here's what is on tap on this Thursday night ...

NIT TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Madison Square Garden -New York City, NY
SMU (27-9) vs. MINNESOTA (24-13) -7 p.m. ET, ESPN

No question that the SMU Mustangs have been real comeback kids in their last couple of NIT wins with the latest happening in Tuesday's 65-59 conquest of 3-point dog Clemson.

Brown's bunch roared back from a 15-point second-half deficit -the key was holding Clemson to just 6-of-25 shooting from the field after intermission -while F Markus Kennedy (21 points) and G Nick Moore (13 points) powered the win into this title tilt but you do have to wonder if SMU can keep living on the edge this way (note the Ponies trailed California by seven points at halftime of that 67-65 win last week in Dallas).

On the flip side, Minnesota blew its 15-point first-half lead en route to a scary 67-64 overtime win against 2-point fav Florida State -why the Gophers didn't foul before FSU's Devon Bookert drained an OT-forcing top-of-the-key triple with 0.3 seconds left is still being asked "round MSG -but Pitino's crew survived behind a slew of overtime free throws and the 17 points apiece from Austin Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu and both of them must heat it up from deep here after Minny banged home 7-of-14 triple tries against the Seminoles.

Will youth be served here or will Hall of Fame boss Brown add an NIT championship to his list of an NBA title Detroit Pistons, 2003-04 season) and an NCAA Championship (1987-88 season with Kansas)?

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