In & around SEC mens basketball

By Cole FrederickBy Cole Frederick

NCAA Tournament Final Four

Out of all the power conferences, including the Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12, ACC and AAC, the Southeastern Conference received the fewest amount of bids to the NCAA Tournament. However, the SEC has the most teams in the Final Four this weekend in North Texas. Florida and Kentucky both earned Final Four berths in the regional finals last weekend. 

In the Sweet 16, Florida knocked off UCLA, 79-68, at Fed Ex Forum in Memphis, Tenn. Michael Frazier led the Gators with 19 points, while senior guard Scottie Wilbekin chipped in 13 points, including two late buckets to put the game out of reach. In the Elite 8, Florida defeated Dayton 62-52. Wilbekin scored a game-high 23 points, while senior center Patric Young scored 12 points. 

Kentucky’s run to the Final Four wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but the Wildcats certainly had the most difficult path of the remaining four teams. 

After beating undefeated Wichita State in the second round, the Wildcats faced rival Louisville in the Sweet 16. In a balanced scoring effort, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Aaron Harrison each scored 15 points in the Cats’ 74-69 victory over the defending national champions. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was 11-0 in the Sweet 16 before this loss.

Kentucky faced Michigan in the Elite 8, and freshman guard Aaron Harrison buried a three pointer with four seconds remaining to give the Wildcats a 75-72 victory over the Wolverines. Harrison scored 12 points, including 4-6 on three pointers. Randle led the Wildcats with 16 points and 11 rebounds. 

Kentucky is the first team in NCAA Tournament history to defeat three teams from the previous year’s Final Four (Louisville, Michigan and Wichita State).

Tennessee’s run in the NCAA Tournament was cut short by Michigan in the Sweet 16. The Volunteers lost to the Wolverines, 73-71, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. The Vols had an opportunity to either tie or take the lead late in the game, but forward Jarnell Stokes was called for a charge with less than 10 seconds remaining. Jordan McRae led all scorers with 24 points. The Volunteers finished the season at 24-13. 

Final Four Previews 

Florida faces Connecticut in the first national semifinal. The Huskies are the last team to defeat Florida, which was back in December. Florida has won 30 consecutive games, a school record, and the Gators have defeated every team they’ve played in the tournament by double digits. Senior guard Shabazz Napier has been the catalyst for this Final Four run by Connecticut, very similar to Kemba Walker’s NCAA tournament in 2011. The Huskies defeated St. Joseph’s, Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State en route to the Final Four. 

The Wildcats square off with the Wisconsin Badgers in the second national semifinal. Kentucky was the top-ranked team in the nation in the preseason, but John Calipari’s young team struggled with consistency most of the season. Despite reaching the NCAA tournament in every season of his tenure, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan is making his first Final Four appearance. The Badgers defeated American, Oregon, Baylor and Arizona to reach their first Final Four since 2000. 

Final Four Predictions 

Semifinals

No. 1 Florida over No. 7 Connecticut

No. 8 Kentucky over No. 2 Wisconsin 

Championship 

Florida 74, Kentucky 71

 
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