If you are looking for a spot on the Connecticut Huskies bandwagon, I can find some room for you – as long as you don’t criticize my driving.
Last May I suggested that bettors run to the window and throw down $50 on “The Field” to win college basketball’s 2014 National Championship because the books had not posted individual odds on Connecticut. The payout for a Huskies title would be 100-to-1, netting backers a cool $5,000.
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And while the rest of the college basketball world may have been surprised by Connecticut’s run to the Final Four, I certainly wasn’t. I said in my East Region preview that Connecticut was the most underseeded team in the entire tournament. I also predicted that they would face Michigan State in the regional final with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
But as close as the Huskies are to an “improbable” National Championship, there is still plenty of work to be done. Connecticut will take on Florida in a national semifinal at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, at the Final Four in Dallas.
The winner will advance to the National Championship Game to face either Wisconsin or Kentucky.
Connecticut vs. Florida Betting Story Lines
This game is a rematch of a fantastic regular-season matchup on Dec. 2. The Huskies won that game 65-64 thanks to some incredible last-minute heroics from Shabazz Napier, including a four-point play with 33.5 seconds left and a game-winning jump shot as time expired.
The other outstanding thing about that game is that it marks the last time that Florida has lost this year. The Gators have won an incredible 30 straight games since falling to the Huskies. They have lost only twice this year; that one-point road loss at Connecticut and a six-point true road loss to Wisconsin back on Nov. 12. So, essentially, all it takes to beat Florida is a Final Four-caliber team playing at peak level in its home gym.
The Gators are the best team in the country and the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their strength is in their versatility and experience. Particularly as compared to the rest of the Final Four teams.
Connecticut is a perimeter-based team, relying on its incredible backcourt of Napier and Boatright. Wisconsin is built similarly, with its strength primarily on the perimeter. Kentucky, on the other hand, is all power on the interior and wins with size.
But Florida is stacked on the perimeter and in the paint and can beat opponents a variety of ways. Senior guards Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year, and Casey Prather team with sophomore Michael Frazier to give the Gators a formidable backcourt. Seniors Patric Young and Will Yeguete, along with sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith, do the damage on the interior. All six of them can defend and score, and the group is capable of playing up-tempo or in the half court.
Florida is also the best defensive team in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency statistics. Florida is No. 3 in the country in points allowed per game (57.6) and No. 24 in field goal defense (39.9 percent). They are capable of playing man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, and I expect to see a bit of both on Saturday.
Connecticut advanced to the Final Four as the No. 7 seed from the East Region. They survived an overtime opener with St. Joseph’s, took down No. 2 seed Villanova, controlled Iowa State in the Sweet 16 and held off heavily-favored Michigan State in the Elite Eight. The Huskies have been underdogs their last three games, but that fits with my statement that they have been underrated all season long.
The key for the Huskies will be the play of their interior. Napier and Boatright have been amazing. And no matter what defense the Gators throw at Connecticut, the Husky guards are going to come to play. But if Connecticut is going to advance, they will need to hold their own on the boards, will need to keep Florida from getting easy baskets, and will need to generate some offense of their own in the paint.
Also, the emergence of 6-foot-9 swing forward DeAndre Daniels will be key to the Huskies. Daniels has scored in double-digits in eight straight games while averaging 7.4 rebounds. He was brilliant in New York City last weekend and will need to continue playing at a high level for UConn to advance.
Another key component of this game could be the free throw line. Florida really struggles at the charity stripe, shooting just 66.8 percent. Connecticut, on the other hand, has gone an incredible 69-for-75 (92 percent) so far in its four tournament games.
Connecticut vs. Florida NCAA Betting Odds and Key Trends
Florida has been posted as a strong 6.5-point favorite in this game, and according to Bookmaker their odds to win the title are at even money. The total in this game is set at 126.5.
Connecticut’s current odds to win the National Championship: seven-to-one.
Connecticut has gone an incredible 13-3 against the spread in their last 16 NCAA Tournament games. That includes a perfect 4-0 ATS mark so far in this year’s tournament. The Huskies are also 25-10 ATS in their last 35 neutral-site games, and they are 4-0 ATS against teams with a winning percentage over .600.
Florida has been nearly as good in The Big Dance, going 20-9 ATS in their last 29 NCAA Tournament games. Florida has gone 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games overall, and they are 2-1-1 ATS in their four tournament games thus far.
Connecticut vs. Florida Free NCAA Picks and Betting Predictions
I am not in a hurry to bet money against either one of these teams and will likely abstain from this game. However, if I had to take a side I think I would go with Florida. The action on this game is split nearly 50-50, and the points do look enticing. But the spread is almost deceptively high as if the books are baiting money on the Huskies.
The Gators should be able to exploit Connecticut’s lack of depth and talent on the interior. And defensively Florida should be able to force the Huskies to operate almost entirely on the perimeter. Connecticut doesn’t mind that, necessarily, because Napier and Boatright are playing at such a high level right now. But you can’t win a game like this without some effectiveness in the paint.
Louisville accounted for three of Connecticut’s eight losses this year. And I think Florida can do a lot of the same things that Louisville did to the Huskies in their matchups. I think that the top overall seed will advance in a tightly-contested game, and Florida should be able to get revenge for the earlier loss in Storrs.
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