By Chris Emma-
(CBS) With all due respect to the Cinderellas and the try-hards, this is a Final Four a basketball junkie dreams of.
The overwhelming favorite to win it all is Florida, which has reeled off 30 consecutive wins. Its 36-2 record earned the top overall seed in the bracket. Yet, the Gators’ two losses are to Wisconsin and UConn, a pair of Final Four brethren.
The Gators have weapons all throughout the lineup, from Patric Young to Scottie Wilbekin to Casey Prather. Yet they’ll face a tough challenge from Shabazz Napier, perhaps the NCAA Tournament’s most valuable player. Few expected the seventh seed from the new AAC to be in the Final Four, but UConn has proved it’s legitimate.
On the other end of the bracket in Saturday’s national semifinals, it’s a matchup of the tournament’s two most rounded teams. Wisconsin has talent all throughout its lineup, led by local product Frank Kaminsky. However, Kentucky has a squad of NBA Lottery picks. Frank “The Tank” will have to match with projected top pick Julius Randle.
This Final Foul has it all — big-name players, coaches and programs. The Butlers and VCUs can stay home; bring on the bluebloods like Kentucky and Connecticut.
A captivating tournament is coming to a close in the monstrosity that is known as “Jerry’s World’s” in Dallas. Great basketball will be on display, with top teams and talented players.
Players to watch
G: Shabazz Napier, UConn – Where would the Huskies be without Napier? A magical March just wouldn’t be the same without the senior point guard. Napier demands the ball in key situations and seems to always be ready for the big shot. Napier averages 18.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He also might drive the team bus to and from the arena. What can’t the guy do?
G: Ben Brust, Wisconsin senior – The knock on Bo Ryan was that he had never reached the Final Four. One of the game’s winningest active coaches finally hit that milestone in year 13 at Wisconsin, and the stellar play of senior leader Brust is a big reason why. For the Badgers, Brust is that go-to scorer and locker room-leader, qualities any team would take.
G: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky – Had it not been for Harrison’s heroics in the Elite Eight, Kentucky’s run through the month of March could have ended. The freshman guard launched a gutsy 3-pointer over the extended arm of Caris LeVert and got nothing but net. Now, the Wildcats are poised for another championship. Harrison has struggled throughout much of his first — and likely his only — season in the college game, but he has picked it up in the postseason, just like his Kentucky team.
F: Patric Young, Florida – One could include Young’s biceps in a separate all-star team, as the Gators’ monster big man looks like the real-life version of a cartoon depiction basketball player. Young is a beast underneath the hoop, the leader for Florida’s unprecedented success this season. He’ll be a steal for an NBA team in the draft. Expect to hear Young’s name quite often during the Final Four.
F: Julius Randle, Kentucky – The crazy thing about Randle is that he’s still getting better. He has upped his game throughout the season and is becoming dominant in the tournament. The 6-foot-9 forward is so tough to contain in the paint, giving the loaded Wildcats’ lineup another weapon to work with. In a year filled with freshmen phenoms, Randle may be the best of the bunch.
C: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky can do it all on the court — shooting from the outside, working the post and whatever else Bo Ryan asks. Perhaps the most versatile player left in the tournament, Kaminsky will be a force for Wisconsin, and the Badgers will need him to play well to beat the Wildcats.
Bo doing it for dad
Each year of his Wisconsin coaching career, Ryan would attend the Final Four as a basketball fan, watching from the seats and not the bench. After each early exit from the NCAA Tournament, the sting of another loss was still too strong.
That’s where Butch Ryan, Bo’s father, made it enjoyable. The jovial, kind man was there to pick up his son after the Badgers fell short of the game’s pinnacle, year after year.
Butch Ryan passed away last August and wasn’t going to be by his son’s side for another Final Four in the seats. This year, Bo broke through and finally reached this milestone. You can bet Butch would be proud.
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBS Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @CEmmaScout.