2014 Final Four Predictions and NCAA Tournament Picks
by Trevor Whenham - 4/1/2014
As we get ready for what promises to be a spectacular Final Four (why wouldn't it be given how great this tournament has been so far?), here are six 2014 Final Four predictions I feel good about making:
Kentucky can't shoot like that again: The Wildcats, who had been an ongoing train wreck all year from beyond the 3-point arc, beat one of the top-shooting teams in the country largely by outdoing them at their own game. Kentucky was a gaudy 7-for-11 from beyond the arc, while Michigan was 7-for-18. It was an impressive effort. Of course, it wasn't a team-wide phenomenon - James Young went 3-for-4, and Aaron Harrison had the other four threes, including the incredibly impressive winning shot. It is very hard to believe that the team can shoot that well again from deep. The good news, though, is that they don't need to. Going outside was a response to Michigan's offensive efficiency - the Wolverines ended their season not only as the most efficient offensive team of this year but of the last 12 years. Kentucky won't face another team quite like that, so they won't have to score quite as rapidly to keep pace. There is a lot of room between how they shot in Indianapolis and how they shot for much of the year, and a whole lot of that room would be more than adequate to keep rolling.
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Calipari will have an answer for Kaminsky: Frank Kaminsky almost single-handedly beat Arizona in the Elite Eight. He was almost as good in the previous two games, and he is the biggest reason that Wisconsin is where he is. While the western Wildcats struggled to contain him, the eastern Wildcats will be able to much more effectively keep him under wraps. Their biggest asset is time - they have several more days to prepare than Sean Miller and Arizona did. They also have more flexibility in their matchups and even more athleticism and length than Arizona. Kaminsky will not the one-man wrecking crew this time that he was last time. That's a major problem for Wisconsin.
UConn is going to miss Madison Square Garden: I can't even begin to comprehend how the UConn team we saw a few weeks ago became a Final Four team. It's things like this happening that make it abundantly obvious that we will never see a perfect bracket. UConn not only won two games in the second week of the tournament, but they beat Iowa State and Michigan State - two teams that should have been considerably better than them at this stage. A lot went into those wins - and the two opponents didn't help themselves in the games, either - but the location certainly has to be considered. By playing in Madison Square Garden the Huskies were in a building they knew very well, and they were within a very short drive for their fan base. It was a virtual home game - two of them - and that couldn't help but have elevated the team. Houston is a long way from Connecticut, though - more than just geographically - and the confines aren't going to be so friendly. I'm past predicting when this team will crash back to earth, but this is as good a time as any. They were the last team to beat Florida way back in early December, but that game was played in Storrs, so location was again a factor.
Seeds mean nothing: This should go without saying at this point. I have no problem with the argument that UConn is just a typical No. 7 team. It was a fair seeding for them. Kentucky is in no way a typical No. 8, though. Anyone who tries to compare this team to the N.C, State team that was the only No. 8 team to win it all in 1985 deserves to have their analysis license permanently revoked. This is an exceptional, loaded team that has found missing form, and the fact that they are so much lower seeded than Wisconsin or Florida is completely meaningless. They might not win, but it won't be for lack of talent.
The SEC is going to win the tournament: I can't even believe I just wrote that sentence. If you had asked me a month ago what was more likely than an all-SEC final, I would still be listing off possibilities. Yet, that is exactly what I am predicting. Florida is just too deep and talented to lose to UConn, and the magic will end for the Huskies. Kentucky has an obscene amount of talent, and they are finally learning how to play together and realize that talent. Wisconsin is no pushover, but Kentucky has shown repeatedly how capable they are of beating exceptional teams playing their best. That leads us to the final, and the strangest of clashes. Two championship-winning coaches take completely opposite teams - the seniors of Florida against the babies of Kentucky. It's like a clash of cultures and beliefs. It will be more than a little fun to watch.
It's all Kentucky: In the end I have to go with the blue bloods of Kentucky. They are so deep, talented and ridiculously athletic. They have faced all sorts of adversity, playing in and winning the toughest games of the tournament. While I take nothing away from what Florida has done, they have gotten lucky and their path has been much easier to this point. They really haven't faced a major test in months. The closest to it was against this same Kentucky team in the SEC Tournament title game, and the Gators only barely won that one. This is a much better Kentucky squad, and they are facing a Florida team that doesn't have as much room to grow. For the third straight year the title will stay in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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