In less than two weeks, an original field of 68 teams has been dwindled down to four with high profile schools in Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Connecticut two wins away from hoisting the National Championship trophy. Set to begin on Saturday, April 5 from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the 2014 Men’s Final Four is set up to be one of the most entertaining in recent memory since each team holds high levels of talent from top to bottom. With a No. 7 seed (UConn) and a No. 8 seed (Kentucky) reaching this point, the 2014 NCAA Tournament proved once again that each of the 68 teams who qualify for the postseason have a chance to make strong runs no matter what seeding they receive.
“I was really taking it slow, one step at a time,” Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie said following his team’s victory over No. 4 Michigan State. “That’s how you get to the top of a ladder. You can’t skip no steps. In down times, what you do is you bond together as brothers. And you hold that fist up. And that FIST for us is ‘Fight.’ It’s our ‘Identity’; that’s the ‘I.’ And the ‘S’ is ‘Stay,’ and then the ‘T’ is ‘Together. Our game plan against Michigan State was simple: We wanted to hit first. Everybody was kind of picturing them as the giant, and we didn’t want to wait for the giant. We wanted to go meet our giant.”
While UConn now has just under a week to prepare for the fifth Final Four appearance in school history, top-ranked Florida -- who will meet Kevin Ollie and the Huskies on April 5 -- are looking forward to returning to the latter stages for the first time since winning back-to-back championships in 206 and 2007. Excited about another chance to move into the Championship game, Gators head coach Billy Donovan couldn’t be happier to be in the Final Four with this veteran-laden group, especially since these student-athletes have been close in the past.
“I’m really happy for these guys,” Donovan said. “They’ve done a great job. I’m not so sure without some of the previous experiences in this game that we wouldn’t necessarily be the team we are right now. There were things that go into winning and I think we may have been lacking in that area a little bit. For these four seniors, it’s good to see these guys get rewarded because it wasn’t an easy road to get to this point. But, at this point, you’re only going to see really good teams and we’re happy to get another 40 minutes and we’re excited to be playing in Dallas.”
No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 8 Kentucky will meet in the second Final Four contest on April 5 after earning impressive victories in the Elite 8. The Badgers took down the West Region’s No. 1 seeded Arizona Wildcats in overtime to reach the Final Four for the first time under the guidance of head coach Bo Ryan and while Wisconsin was disposing of Sean Miller’s Wildcats, 2012 National Champion Kentucky -- who had already taken down previously undefeated Wichita State and 2013 champion Louisville -- was in the process of slipping past the Michigan Wolverines. Reaching the Final Four for the 16th time in school history, head coach John Calipari says it’s a rewarding accomplishment considering the tough road his Wildcats traveled this season.
“I started believing what everybody was writing at the start of the year,’’ Calipari said regarding his team’s No. 1 preseason ranking. “I’m thinking: This is going to be easy. This was very difficult on all of us. It was difficult because my choice coaching them was to all them the body language, the effort less than it needed to be, the focus less than it needed to be, at time selfishness. And I became a little mean because we had to get it changed. I kept telling them: You’ve got to fail fast, which means go play and don’t be afraid to make mistakes so we can see what we have to do. But at the end of the day, you could see this team is empowered. It’s their team. It’s not my team.”
2014 NCAA Men’s Final Four: Matchups, Date, Time, TV & Live Stream INFO
Saturday, April 5
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 UConn 6:09 p.m., ET TBS NCAA.com
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky 8:49 p.m., ET TBS NCAA.com
2014 NCAA Men’s National Championship
Monday, April 7 at 9:10 p.m., ET on CBS
*Live stream coverage available through NCAA.com*