7 UConn vs. 1 Florida, 6:09 pm ET, TBS
When Billy Donovan teams bow out of March Madness, it's more often than not because a dynamic guard killed them. The latest name to go onto that list very easily could be Shabazz Napier.
It was Napier that did the Gators in back on December 2, the last time they lost to anyone. By now you've probably seen the final sequence in that one. Napier forced a shot that missed the rim, but the ball bounced off the backboard and DeAndre Daniels somehow tipped it right to him. He then took a much better shot that went in to seal it.
Obviously that one play was necessary for the Huskies to secure the one-point win, but they wouldn't have been in that position in the first place without Napier's 24 other points too. Daniels was the only other Husky in double figures on the night with 14, as Florida held UConn to a little under its year-long field goal shooting percentage despite Napier going 9-for-15.
Job 1 in this game for the Gators will be guarding the three-point line better. That was the one thing that went really poorly that night in Storrs. UConn shot 45.8% from three, well above its season average. Napier was 5-for-8, but three other players made at least half of their deep attempts. The Gators outrebounded the Huskies 34-26, kept UConn's two-point shooting below season average, and made right about their season average from the free throw line (UConn did as well). UF shot a better percentage from the field, took more shots, and made more free throws. The entire difference in the game was three point shooting; Florida was 3-of-9 while UConn was 11-of-24.
The Gators will get a boost from having Kasey Hill available this time around, as he was out with an ankle injury last time. DeVon Walker was the only reserve guard to play, and he was in a whole two minutes. Scottie Wilbekin also missed the final three minutes in December after turning his ankle; he ideally won't miss any time in this one.
Florida has grown as a team quite a bit since December, and it won't be a road game in Dallas. If the Gators can simply keep UConn from shooting above its season average from three, they'll be in great shape to win this game. UConn couldn't really handle Patric Young down low last time, so look for him to have a big game.
Of course, the focus will (and should be) all on Napier. He has scored 24, 25, 19, and 24 points in the Huskies' four tournament games so far. He killed Florida in December, and he just might do it again.
8 Kentucky vs. 2 Wisconsin, 8:49 pm ET, TBS
The lazy sportswriter's way of breaking this game down is pretty simple. Kentucky is really hot right now, and Wisconsin lacks the Wildcats' athleticism. The latter half of that, of course, is basketball code for, "Wisconsin is significantly whiter than Kentucky is".
UK may be hot right now, but these teams have the same record in their past eight games: 6-2. Back it up to ten games for a nice round number, and the Badgers are 8-2 versus 7-3 for the Wildcats. Kentucky has the more impressive string of wins in the Big Dance with Wichita State, Louisville, and Michigan, but that has more to do with seeding than anything else. Wisconsin has the best single win with its victory over Arizona.
As for athleticism, if that's all it took to take down Wisconsin, then Baylor wouldn't have lost by 17 to the Badgers a week ago. Besides, it's not like the Badgers are throwing a bunch of stiffs out there.
Frank Kaminsky figures to be a very tough matchup for the Wildcats to deal with. He's a seven-footer who plays both inside and out, as he leads the Badgers in rebounds while also making a respectable 37.8% of his threes. UK has a pair of seven-footers of its own, but Dakari Johnson will get worn out chasing Kaminsky around and Willie Cauley-Stein probably won't go with his ankle injury. Julius Randle and especially Marcus Lee might take turns on him at times, but they each give up three inches to him. Bo Ryan's offense requires the big men to play some on the perimeter, and that will bother UK's defense.
On the same token, Kaminsky is the only real tall tree in Wisconsin's tournament rotation. Everyone else tops out at 6-9 or under, so I wouldn't be surprised to see John Calipari go to Johnson in the post early to try to pick up some fouls on Kaminsky. If Kaminsky has to sit, then UK can sub Lee in for Johnson and match up perfectly on whoever's out there for the Badgers. At that point, Kentucky's size and athleticism advantage—which does exist, even if it is a cliché—will give the Wildcats the decided edge.
After all, guards have most often led the way for teams that have defeated Wisconsin this year. The Harrisons will have anywhere from three to five inches on anyone who defends them, so at least one of them should have a big game. What Kentucky should do is run a controlled offense inside the arc to take advantage of its size. Wisconsin has four players that shoot a better percentage from deep than any of UK's players, so the Wildcats won't win a three-point shooting contest. They will, however, thrive on using motion and drives to force Wisconsin's defenders to help and thereby leave guys open for easy points.
We should be able to tell fairly quickly what kind of game this will be. If Kaminsky is rolling and Wisconsin is controlling things on both ends of the floor, it's going to be a long evening for the Wildcats. If, on the other hand, the Harrisons are driving past guys and setting up Randle and Johnson for dunks, then it could easily end up a 40-minute Wildcat party.