Friday gave us an amazing end to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament, featuring four games all decided by five or less points, but now it is time for the truest moments of truth in the often surreal setting of March Madness.
Today’s offers the first games that will give us the first half of the Final Four. Here are their locations, their announcing teams and some commentary for both. All times are Central, both games will be broadcast on TBS:
South Regional Final, At FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn.
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller, Rachel Nichols
5:09 p.m.: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 11 Dayton
— Interestingly enough, as Dayton has navigated this NCAA tournament, reaching its first Elite 8 since 1984, it seems that they have faced teams less equipped to beat them.
Not since facing in-state rival Ohio State in the round of 64 have the Flyers faced a team who is willing to face you with aggression defensively from the perimeter in and there was in the Buckeyes’ effort a big motivation to not be upset by their “little brother” as it were. Next, Syracuse underperformed against them as is typical for that program in the first weekend of the tourney, and Stanford was a little too tight overall and not flexible enough defensively to match up with the Flyers’ athletic array of guards and forwards.
This time around, though, Florida has the horses to run with Dayton, their four-man core of seniors — Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete — are not about to let their college legacies be tarnished by a Cinderella, even one as talented as Dayton.
In this era, where the George Mason’s and VCU’s and Wichita State’s of the world can run off four wins and get to semifinal Saturday, the Flyers stand as a team worthy of winning a regional championship but I don’t see it happening. If the before-mentioned Young can neutralize Dayton’s Matt Kavanaugh in the paint then I think the Gators will have controlled their biggest threat. I’m also looking forward to the Wilbekin/Scoochie Smith matchup and any head up between Prather and Kendall Pollard (Chicago product – Simeon).
My main problem with Dayton’s ends of those matchups is that in the case of Smith and Pollard you’re still talking freshmen against seniors. If we’re talking Kentucky freshman, maybe its a different story… but of course, Florida downed those same Wildcats three times already this year. I think they got this one too.
West Regional Final, At Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
Announcers: Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager
7:49 p.m.: No.1 Arizona vs. No. 2 Wisconsin
— Our only No. 1/No. 2 seed clash, Arizona and Wisconsin have both proven themselves worthy of the Final Four and maybe even worthy of a national title, but only one gets to pass go to Dallas.
Arizona comes off a scrap fest with San Diego State while the Badgers had little problems against an athletic Baylor squad many picked for the upset. The key in this game to me is how both teams gain their shots. Wisconsin makes a lot of jumpers, but they also get the ball to Frank Kaminsky (another Chicago-area guy — Benet Academy) who does nothing but shoot high percentage shots, be it in the post or open on the perimeter. Arizona has a similar inside-outside threat in Aaron Gordon but the Wildcats mostly like to get out in transition following misses or forced turnovers.
Will those transition opportunities be there for Arizona? That may be the main question regarding whether they can hold off Bucky. If not, then Wisconsin should win by executing its half court sets and controlling the pace of the game. One thing is for certain, Arizona can not withstand any performances like they got from Nick Johnson against SDSU, missing his first 10 shots before exploding for 15 in the final 2:44 to held decide things for the Wildcats.
Wisconsin would love a start similar to what they did against Baylor, holding that team to 16 in the first half. I wouldn’t expect that against Arizona, but they could go cold and if the Badgers get a little physical and send guys to the line that won’t be a problem, given the Wildcats’ altogether bad free throw shooting.
If Arizona was at full strength with Brandon Ashley I may have gave them the advantage because Ashley could have caused havoc on the boards. The Wildcats could still do that, but I don’t think the Badgers will miss enough shots to fall behind much in this one. On Wisconsin…to the Final Four.
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