One of the most exciting sports weekends of the year is fast approaching. Everyone gets excited about March Madness and that’s finally coming to a close next weekend. If your team was lucky enough to make the tournament, bully for you! But most teams find out the road to the Final Four is tougher than they anticipated. You wouldn’t believe how many times people have come up to me and said, “Casey, my team was eliminated early on, who should I cheer for this weekend?” Well, curious friend, I’ll tell you.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the four teams left and why you should hop on that bandwagon before it’s too late to pretend you’ve been a fan for years.
Cheer “On Wisconsin” if you like: Benet Academy, cheese, Aaron Rodgers hanging out in your locker room
Obviously Wisconsin’s leading scorer is Benet alum Frank Kaminsky, so if you’re from Benet and like to see former Redwings succeed, the Badgers are the team for you.
One other reason to cheer on Wisconsin is Bo Ryan. When he’s not getting goofy with Aaron Rodgers, he’s one of the more consistent basketball coaches in the country. In the 13 years that Ryan has been at the Wisconsin helm, the Badgers have never finished outside the top four of the Big 10 conference, despite only coaching three NBA draft picks. Everyone likes a coach who can get the most out of a less talented team and that’s something Ryan has done with consistency.
Gator chomp if you like: winning streaks, partying, second chances, my bracket succeeding
It’s hard to come back into the public’s favor after crushing the Cinderella-story of the year, but the Gators offer several reasons to warrant your cheers.
If you’re like me and chalked up your bracket with Florida winning, you have an easy reason to get behind Florida. But beyond that, Florida has a couple guys on their roster who are making the most of a second (or third) chance they were given. In June, point guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Wilbekin also missed two games last year for the same reason. The other Florida contributor who was sent to the principal’s office this season was 5-star recruit Chris Walker. Walker hasn’t contributed much this year after being suspended for the first 12 games of the year for academic ineligibility, but he pushes further the idea of second chances on this Gators team.
The other fun thing about Florida is that they’ve actually played each of the other Final Four teams. The Gators lost to Wisconsin in the third game of the season 53-59, then lost to UConn on a last-second shot three weeks later 64-65. Those were their only two losses of the season. Then, being in the SEC, they took on Kentucky twice in the conference season, then in the conference championship game. Florida won all three contests, but the last one was dangerously close, winning by one point. Imagine if the Gators got one more shot at the only two teams that beat them this year. Poetic.
Hop on UConn’s bandwagon (they say there’s room!) if you enjoy: cool names like Shabazz, clutch free throw shooting, foreign players (the Huskies have some)
Connecticut is technically the underdog of this Final Four as only 1.3% of people chose them to get this far. But, at this point, you can’t really say anyone is an underdog. You can’t fluke your way to a Final Four. If you get this far, you’re good.
UConn might have the most talented backcourt in the country, lead by Shabazz Napier. Napier is a gutsy undersized senior with a sweet first name and an even sweeter stroke. Napier is one of those players who feels like he’s been in college for 8 years (others on this list include JJ Redick and Adreian Payne) and keeps hitting clutch shots throughout his career. He’s actually played in a national championship before, as a freshman when UConn won in 2011. The way he’s played this tournament, you can tell he’s thirsty for another one.
Napier is paired with talented junior Ryan Boatright (who beat Benet in high school to kill their perfect season. Grrr) to form a DANGEROUS backcourt of shooters. The Huskies might be outmatched down low compared to the other teams still in the tournament, but they’ve been playing through their backcourt all season and they are a scary team if they are hitting their shots.
Shout out Go Cats if you like: flights with a layover, player turnover, cheering on players that cannot legally buy dry ice
Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky… What are you? The last three years have yielded three VERY different teams for the Wildcats. 2012 saw one of the most talented teams ever with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, and three other first-round draft picks won the National Championship. Last year, Kentucky was ranked in the top three to start the season, but ended up getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. This year, the Wildcats were also highly touted with Coach Calipari claiming this could be the team to go 40-0, but a disappointing regular season made it look like it would be another down year for Big Blue Nation, as they earned an 8-seed in a region of death. But just when you thought the Wildcats were done for the year, they beat three of last year’s Final Four teams in a row to reach this year’s Final Four.
There’s always controversy about Kentucky’s recruiting strategy of attracting the one-and-done. They will always be the most talented team on the floor, but questions arise in how well they can mesh as a team in just a few months, and in their lack of experience. They’ll see a Wisconsin team next weekend which is pretty much the anti-Kentucky in that they almost NEVER have freshmen leave their program.
No matter who you’re cheering for, whether Husky, Gator, Badger, or Wildcat, take time to appreciate the best postseason in sports. In the same way that the Greek democracy was the purest democracy, college basketball’s 68-team playoff is the purest way to crown a champion. Ninety-nine percent of these players aren’t going to make a career in the NBA. They are doing this for the here and now. No other major sport has a playoff system as crazy, unpredictable or fun to watch as March Madness.