ARLINGTON, Texas -- Playing in domes is nothing new for the Final Four. But there are domes, and there is Jerry’s World, which looms like some sort of alien spaceship in the distance off the highway.
It, like everything in Texas, is huge. Like silly huge. From the upper press box, the basketball court looks like it might as well be sitting in Oklahoma.
So the question is, can these games be as big as the venue? My guess is yes. I know plenty of people think these two games look a bit lopsided, but I don’t. Connecticut and Wisconsin might be underdogs, but the two teams aren’t here accidentally. Both strung together strong regular seasons and have more than earned their way in March.
Here’s a quick look at what especially is worth watching in this national semifinal:
UConn vs. Florida
What to watch: The free throw line. Maybe it’s not the most dazzling part of a game to watch, but it could just be the most critical, especially if this game is tight. UConn has been unbelievably consistent from the line in this NCAA tournament, hitting 81 of 92. For the season, the Huskies average 77 percent. Compare that to the 67 percent and the 54 of 73 free throws the Gators have connected on, and you’ve got a situation that might get interesting.
Who to watch: Why stop watching Shabazz Napier now? The Huskies senior has been must-watch TV since the start of this tournament and odds are nothing will change on this, the biggest stage of the tournament. Napier has gotten plenty of help from his teammates, but the Huskies will still go as he goes.
Key matchup: As much as we’ll be talking about guard play, I still think the inside matchups might matter more. How DeAndre Daniels and Amida Brimah handle Patric Young will go a long way in determining how the Huskies fair in this game. UConn’s ability to hold Michigan State to just six points in the paint is the reason the Huskies are here. We’ll see if they can do the same against the Gators.
Who wins: I am oh-so-tempted to say the Huskies. I’ve seen teams catch lightning in a bottle in this tournament and that’s exactly what UConn is doing, but it’s just too hard to pick against a Florida team that has four seniors who have been on a four-year mission. Florida wins 73-66.
Kentucky vs. Wisconsin
What to watch: The boards. Kentucky has lived off its rebounding all season but never more than right now. In the postseason, only one team, Florida, has beaten the Wildcats on the boards. The Badgers have to keep them off the glass and prevent easy offensive putbacks or fouls.
Who to watch: The Harrison twins (sorry, they can’t be separated). The way the Wildcats’ guards have turned around their games in this tournament is why Kentucky is in the Final Four. Once chided for bad body language, the two have been the model of consistency, making big shots and even more importantly, making the right decisions.
Key matchup: It’s not original, but the matchup between Frank Kaminsky and Julius Randle is worth watching. Kaminsky can stretch the Wildcats’ defense some, pulling Randle out of the paint, but it’s the reverse side that could be problematic. The post players at Wisconsin are going to have their hands full (as most people do) with Randle, his post-mate, Dakari Johnson, and maybe even Marcus Lee.
Who wins: Kentucky was always the most talented team in this college basketball season. Now the Wildcats finally look like the best team. I don’t think this will be a blowout. Wisconsin is far too good and too solid for that to happen, but I still think the Wildcats make it to the national title game by beating the Badgers, 72-68.