USA TODAY Sports, with help from some opposing coaches, breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of the Final Four teams.
What they do best: Though Florida is great both defensively and offensively — "They can beat you on either end," Georgia coach Mark Fox says — the Gators' biggest strength is defense. Florida's defense is the most efficient in the nation, particularly good at holding opponents to low shooting percentages on two-point field goals. Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who coached Billy Donovan at Providence, hired him as an assistant and remains a close friend, says, "No one knows Billy the Kid better than me, and the one (thing) that sticks out with this team is how well this team is playing at the defensive end. This team really understands how to guard. They're a veteran team."
Achilles' heel: This is the most balanced team in the field, ranked in kenpom.com's top 20 for both offensive and defensive efficiency. Its offensive attack is spread out; four different players average double-digit scoring. In their two losses this season, they didn't have their full roster available (due to injuries and suspensions). "They're not a team that has much of a weakness," Fox says. "I don't think there's really an Achilles' heel, except if a guy like (point guard Scottie) Wilbekin got in foul trouble." Pitino adds that he's not sure there's "one guy who can get them a bunch of points and take over a game." One other area to keep an eye on: Free throws. Florida's free-throw percentage is the lowest of the Final Four teams.
How to beat them: It's important to attack the paint and try to score quickly on this Florida defense, multiple coaches say. The Gators' average defensive possession lasts 20.2 seconds, one of the longest in all of Division I basketball this year. To deal with that, coaches suggest Florida's opponents play a little quicker and look for any opportunities to get transition buckets. Against Florida's balanced offensive attack, teams won't have a chance if they don't play good defense. In addition, they especially need to focus on taking away Florida's three-point shooting, particularly that of Michael Frazier II. "He can really shoot the ball," Fox says.
X factor: Because Florida's offense is so balanced, there are multiple potential X-factors. Frazier, because of his long-range shooting (he attempts seven threes a game, and he shoots 45% from beyond the arc). Will Yeguete with his quiet impact on the game. Or Kasey Hill, the freshman guard who comes off the bench and can affect the game with his speed. Or, perhaps most important, Wilbekin, the lock-down perimeter defender and someone who's really stepped into a leadership position on this team. "They've won some games down the stretch because of balance and depth; they wear people down," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson says. "The guy that orchestrates that is Wilbekin."
What they do best: This is one of the nation's best offenses. "They're a great, strong-willed, tough-minded team," Nebraska coach Tim Miles says. "They share the ball unconditionally. They all have great skill sets." Because they're coached by Bo Ryan, these players are incredibly sound in everything they do. Passing is crisp. The right guys take the right shots. They only turn the ball over eight times a game, on average; "That's extremely low," Pitino says. "They will not beat themselves," Miles says. The Badgers are also are shooting nearly 40% from beyond the arc as a team this postseason.
Achilles' heel: This isn't necessarily as much about Wisconsin's weakness but rather the strength of its opponent in the national semifinal, Kentucky. "My greatest concern for them against Kentucky is the length and size of those (Kentucky players), being able to get quality shots off," Miles says. "They're going to be up against maybe the nation's best rebounding team in Kentucky," Pitino says, and the Wildcats are especially impressive on the offensive glass. A good sign for Wisconsin, however, is that the Badgers use fundamentals — ball fakes, pass fakes, pivots — well to get clean shots against superior length and athleticism.
How to beat them: Kentucky needs to do what it's been doing these last couple of weeks — keep playing at a high level and keep dominating the glass. "Kentucky's got great talent playing great," Miles says. The Wildcats have been good down low all season, but now that they're hitting outside shots, they've become somewhat unstoppable. If they (twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison in particular) continue shooting well along the perimeter, Kentucky should be able to beat Wisconsin. "Kentucky right now is playing at a different level than everybody else," Pitino says.
X factor: It's easy to point to 7-footer Frank Kaminsky as the key to Wisconsin's success. He scored 28 points against Arizona and carried the Badgers into the Final Four. He's a matchup problem because he shoots so well from the perimeter. "He's the difference-maker," Miles says. "He's got to have a great game." Other coaches point to Wisconsin's style of play as the critical piece. If the Badgers move the ball well offensively, dictate the tempo and play sound overall, they'll have a shot at winning what could easily be a nail-biter.
What they do best: Their guard play. Senior point guard Shabazz Napier, in particular, has been sensational all season, but especially in the NCAA tournament. "He's a very patient scorer," Pitino says. "He's most dangerous in the final few minutes of the game." Florida is well aware of that; on Dec. 2 the Gators fell victim to a Napier buzzer-beater. Donovan knows that Napier can score 20 points in the blink of an eye — while also grabbing six rebounds and dishing out five assists a game. "(Napier) can do it by himself," Donovan says. "He doesn't need necessarily a lot of help or a lot of screening. He's been a big shot-maker his whole entire career. (Ryan) Boatright back there with him is another explosive guard who can score."
Achilles' heel: For how good UConn's backcourt is, its frontcourt has been a question mark much of the season. The Huskies' bigs are still fairly young and inexperienced and don't rebound as well as the guards. "Any time your point guard is your best rebounder, it's a concern a little bit," Pitino says. Size can be an issue in general, too, as coaches point out that rotating help and switching can be problematic for a team with small players, such as UConn. "That's why the Kentuckys of the world are so dominant," Pitino says. "They rotate with these aircraft carriers. You don't have 6-foot guards trying to block out 6-9, 6-10, guys with 7-foot wingspans."
How to beat them: It may not be possible to stop Napier completely — although you can try to stop him from dictating tempo. To beat UConn, you need to stop the Huskies from making a ton of threes, because between Napier, Boatright, Niels Giffey and DeAndre Daniels, you've got a lot of shooters who can make them. Florida will put senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin — arguably the nation's best perimeter defender — on Napier to try to limit him, and even so, Donovan says it'll take a total team effort to stop Napier.
X factor: DeAndre Daniels. "He's their most improved player," Pitino says. "At the beginning of the year when we faced him, he didn't put the ball on the floor. He was just a straight spot-up shooter. Now, he's putting the ball on the floor." Daniels, a 6-9 forward, scored 27 points against Iowa State in the Sweet 16, showing how effective he can be as yet another UConn offensive weapon, both along the perimeter and in the post.
What they do best: The Wildcats' size and talent are otherworldly — and make them one of the nation's best offensive rebounding teams. Before, Julius Randle would just do Julius Randle things in the paint. Now, he still dominates down low, but Kentucky's outside shooters have come alive and become much more consistent, meaning the 'Cats can beat you pretty much any way they want. "They started to click on more cylinders," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson says. "They're an impossible team to prepare for," Pitino says. 'They're making free throws and rebounding like they haven't eaten in a week — like starving dogs. It's something to behold." Fox says, "Size allows them to really protect the basket on defense." It also gives them second and third chances on the offensive end.
Achilles' heel: "They would be the first one to tell you, if they're not making perimeter shots, they're not as good a basketball team," Fox says. "But when they are making perimeter shots, they're as good as anybody." Lately, they're hitting them. Aaron and Andrew Harrison in particular are playing a lot better and less inconsistent; Aaron is shooting 54% from beyond the arc during the NCAA tournament. For much of the season, the Wildcats' weakness was inexperience, Pitino says. "Now, all of that is thrown out the window. They just beat three teams that went to the Final Four last year. … Now, they look like they've been playing together for 10 years. That's a credit to their coaches and the maturity of the young players."
How to beat them: Without Willie Cauley-Stein down low — and he's expected to miss Saturday's game with an injured left ankle — Kentucky's defense and shot-blocking are a little weaker. "Willie changed most games for us," John Calipari says. But the 'Cats are still so big and so athletic, they will own the glass regardless. (And Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee have played well; Lee scored 10 points against Michigan after scoring exactly 0 in the previous 10 games.) Opposing coaches say the key is to try to score in transition or before the Wildcats set their defense. Wisconsin also will have to try to stop the Harrisons, who are both knocking down shots more consistently now than they have all season.
X factor: Multiple coaches point to 6-8 sophomore Alex Poythress, who has given Kentucky a boost on both ends. Poythress had eight points, three rebounds and a block in 18 minutes against Michigan in the Elite Eight. Anderson says Poythress and Lee are key because they "do the grunt work." Lee is important because opposing teams don't know a whole lot about him, Pitino says. And of course, a final potential difference-maker is Aaron Harrison. He's the one who hit the big shot to beat Michigan, and if he continues to play at such a high level, he could lead Kentucky to the title game.