Expect the Wildcats to Roar in the Final Four

Ride the hot team. And never bet against a streak.

Crack open any beginner’s guide to sports betting and you’re sure to find these sister principles no later than the top of Page 2. Seems like pretty obvious logic—kind of like “never look directly into the sun” and “never tell your wife, ‘As a matter of fact, that dress does make you look fat.’” Of course, if this betting philosophy was as tried and true as it appears, your bank account would look like Steve Wynn’s, and Wynn would be scraping by as a SpongeBob busker on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Well, if there’s one time each year when you absolutely can’t rely on this theory, it’s when the NCAA tournament is whittled down to the Final Four. Since each team needed four straight victories to get to this point, they all qualify as hot. And streaking. What’s more, success for this year’s Final Four participants has extended beyond the court, as Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Kentucky are a combined 14-2 against the spread in the Big Dance.

So, clearly, these Final Four matchups of Florida vs. UConn and Wisconsin vs. Kentucky are a complete crapshoot, right? Not necessarily. I have pretty strong opinions on both contests—and the fact I went 5-1-1 with last week’s Sweet 16 selections means, um … not a damn thing.

Florida (-6, 126½) vs. UConn: Credit UConn for getting this far, surviving an overtime game against St. Joseph’s followed by consecutive upsets of teams seeded No. 2 (Villanova), No. 3 (Iowa State) and No. 4 (Michigan State). But Villanova was a fraud, Iowa State’s best player was injured, and Michigan State, which barely escaped Harvard and Virginia, was wobbling like a tourist coming out of a club at 4 a.m. Florida is now riding a 30-game winning streak; its four tournament victories have been by 12, 16, 11 and 10 points; and the Gators have revenge on their side, their most recent loss coming December 2 at Connecticut, a last-second 65-64 heartbreaker. Prediction: Florida 63, UConn 51.

Kentucky (-2, 139½) vs. Wisconsin: Full disclosure: I’ve been fading Wisconsin this entire tournament, and I’ve got the dust in my wallet to prove it. Well, I’m not about to stop now, because the Badgers don’t have the athletes to compete with Kentucky, which is finally playing like the No. 1 team it was predicted to be in the preseason. The Wildcats, who are a one-point SEC title-game loss to Florida from a seven-game winning streak, have won four nail-biters in this tournament (total margin of victory: 17 points), with the last three coming against previously unbeaten Wichita State, defending champion Louisville and Big Ten regular-season champion Michigan. Kentucky coach John Calipari, just in the nick of time, finally got his young, gifted athletes to gel as a team—which now looks like a team of destiny. Prediction: Kentucky 78, Wisconsin 70.

Last week: 5-1-1. NCAA tournament record: 7-6-1.

Matt Jacob appears Wednesdays on Pregame.com’s First Preview, which airs 10-11 a.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1100-AM.

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