After more than four months of playing, thousands of games and hundreds of surprises, the college basketball season reaches its climax this weekend when the Florida Gators, Connecticut Huskies, Wisconsin Badgers and Kentucky Wildcats decide the national championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The best thing about the college game’s postseason tournament is its unpredictably, and these four showcase that.
This year’s semifinals feature a surprising blue blood, a program many thought was a major rebuilding project and two football schools that have proven it’s possible to win on the hardwood.
Unlike past years, any one of these four has a shot at cutting down the nets.
Florida Gators (36-2)
The Gators were the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and for good reason.
Florida won the Southeastern Conference and entered the Big Dance riding a 26-game winning streak, a run that has since grown to 30 games.
The Gators defense has chomped opponents all tournament long as Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Dayton have combined to shoot only 39 percent (85 for 214) against Florida.
Florida has also limited those opponents to one shot and done. The Gators on average haul in 26 defensive rebounds to their opposition’s seven offensive rebounds in the tournament.
Casey Prather may lead the team with 14.2 points per game, but point guard Scottie Wilbekin is on fire, scoring 16.8 points per game in the NCAA tournament.
Florida also has plenty of experience with four senior starters.
UConn Huskies (30-8)
Basketball is one the one sport where one player can will his team to a deep run for a national title.
Just like Glen Rice in 1989 and Carmelo Anthony in 2003, Huskies senior guard Shabazz Napier could will his team to another title.
This is an unexpected run for UConn under second-year coach Kevin Ollie. Last year the Huskies were banned from postseason play after several years of low scores on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate.
One year later, all is normal as both UConn men’s and women’s teams are in the Final Four.
Napier is the best pro prospect left in the tournament. In four tournament wins, the 6-foor-1 guard is averaging 23 points, six rebounds, and four assists and is shooting better than 45 percent.
The Huskies were the last team to beat Florida, winning 65-64 at home on Dec. 2, although Wilbekin missed the end of the game with an injury.
Wisconsin Badgers (30-7)
If college basketball had a BCS system, this football power would surely be in the championship game.
The Badgers are the most battle-tested team remaining. Not only did Wisconsin make it to the Big 10 semifinals, arguably the most competitive conference in the nation, but they went 6-1 against ranked teams in the regular season.
That resume includes road victories over ACC champ Virginia and Michigan and a home win over Florida, 59-53 on Nov. 12.
Wisconsin beat a hot Baylor team in the Sweet 16 and ousted Arizona, a No. 1 seed, in the Elite Eight.
Wisconsin is also unbeatable when it is feeling it from the outside, just ask Baylor. The Badgers are converting on 37 percent of their 3-point shots.
Kentucky Wildcats (28-10)
The Wildcats proved that talent is more important than chemistry.
Kentucky had the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the country, struggled to six SEC losses, but talent has lifted them to the Final Four.
The Wildcats freshman quintet of Julius Randle, James Young, Dakari Johnson and Aaron and Andrew Harrison finally played to their potential and helped the Wildcats claw past Kansas State and undefeated Wichita State.
Kentucky is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and their ability to own the glass helped them beat both Louisville and Michigan, two teams that are more on par with their talent. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Cardinals 37-29 and the Wolverines 35-24.
Kentucky’s one-and-done team will have one last hurrah before going to the NBA.