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Final Four Viewers Guide: Has Kentucky Gone From Despised To Darling?


Ronald Martinez

When John Calipari locked in what many called "the greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball" in 2013, many thought there was little need to play the 2013-14 season.  With countless burger boys that had a direct path to the green room at the NBA Draft, it was expected that Cal would once again guide a young team to a title.  Unfortunately for Wildcats fans, things did not come so easy as their freshman played like freshman throughout the regular season to the point where many labeled that promising recruiting class 'mediocre'.  Sure, Julius Randle lived up to the billing as a double-double machine but the Harrison twins were inconsistent and maligned by Big Blue Nation and James Young proved to be an offensive threat but a defensive nightmare.  Wait a is the Final 4 and all I can seem to talk about is Kentucky.  Well, at least that is par for the course with the rest of the mainstream media.  Let's take a look at some of the other headlines heading into today's Final 4.

The Schedule (Wait, the Final 4 is really on TBS?)

3:09pm pacific, TBS, Connecticut (East Region Champ) vs. Florida (South)

5:49pm pacific, TBS, Kentucky (Midwest) vs. Wisconsin (West)

The Labels

I don't know about the rest of you but I can't help but be blown away by the trends in coverage for each team and the labels that each has received in Dallas.  Let's compare notes on each team:

Florida - "The Favorite" (duh)

Lots of rhetoric out there about the parity of March over the past few years and that is definitely a valid trend but, once again, the No. 1 overall seed has cruised through the tournament and looks poised to chomp down the nets in Dallas (see what I did there?).

Wisconsin - The "Really cool they made it this far" team

Let me remind you. This is what I have picked up from the mainstream media - not my opinion.  I will be a Badger fan today as I am pulling for Bo Ryan and have an odd passion for Frank Kaminsky as he has "Olynykian" elements to his game that I can't ignore.  That said, for the Badgers being the second-highest seeded team here, it seems like most are just pumped that Bo made a Final 4 and now expect them to make a quick exit stage left.

Kentucky - "The Darling"

That is an absolutely nauseating combo but, it is true.  I woke up this morning to Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps (did I mention nauseating combos?) droning on and on...and on and on and on about Kentucky.  I then clicked on and 3 or 4 of their top stories were about Kentucky or Calipari.  ESPN has Cal on the front page as do many national outlet.  While Florida is the favorite, the press is all over Kentucky and, honestly, for good reason.  The 'one and done' phenomena is very enticing to sports fans and we are all gobbling it up.

Connecticut - "The Afterthought"

This could totally be a geographic location thing as I live in Denver but I will admit that I have forgotten that Connecticut was in the Final 4 about 15 times this week.  The Huskies also have the unfortunate draw of taking on Florida today but, like Wisconsin, it seems as though most are assuming the Huskies will be returning to Storrs later this evening.

My Picks

There is really only potential for one shocking result today.  If Kevin Ollie and the UConn Huskies can take down Florida in the Final 4, it would be a total stunner to me.  I have a hard time thinking this game won't be similar to the rest of Florida's tournament wins: back and forth early with the Gators being simply too much down the stretch.  That said, I think UConn is the one team remaining that can match Florida's defensive intensity.  The Huskies absolutely stymied the Michigan State Spartans in the East Regional Finals and if they can create turnovers and get easy buckets in transition early on, we could have a shocker.  I nearly talked myself into picking the Huskies but I just have to take Florida here.

The other game is full of headlines which you have assuredly heard all about.  The constrast in strategy between Bo Ryan and John Calipari is major but that has been discussed to the point of sickness.  In this game, I can't wait to watch how Calipari attacks Frank Kaminsky.  Against Arizona, it was a pleasure to watch how he adapted his game based on who was defending him.  Against the bigger Kaleb Tarczewski, Kaminsky drew him outside and went to work.  When Aaron Gordon defended him, he used a variety of post moves to get buckets.  In watching Kentucky, I don't think they have anyone that can really stop Kaminsky but, when you look at the other side, I don't think Wisconsin has anyone that can stop Julius Randle so I guess you assume those two net eachother out.  Unfortunately, I have to go super cliche on you and just say that this game will be decided by which perimeter group can knock down open shots.  As I said earlier, I will be a Badger fan today and since I have no desire to be impartial, I'm going with Wisconsin in what should be a superb basketball game.

Alright, now that I have virtually guaranteed a Connecticut v. Kentucky title game, what say you? What are you watching in today's Final 4?