The road to redemption goes through North Texas for a fearsome Final Four of power programs with something to prove.
Florida, the top overall seed, returns to the Final Four for the first time since winning consecutive titles in 2006-07, this time without all those first-round NBA picks.
Waiting for the Gators at Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar stadium on Saturday will be Connecticut, back near the top of the bracket under Kevin Ollie after being barred a year ago for academic problems.
Wisconsin and coach Bo Ryan will be there, finally in the Final Four after so many near-misses.
Facing the Badgers in the other national semifinal will be all those Kentucky kids, once written off as too young and inexperienced to play for a title before they head off to the NBA.
This Final Four contains no upstarts or midmajor party crashers, just big boys with big chips on their shoulders.
Donovan won a pair of national titles in Gainesville with Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford, all top-10 NBA picks in the 2007 NBA draft. But the Gators (36-2) lost in the regional final the past three seasons.
The Huskies won the 2011 national title with coach Jim Calhoun and one-man show Kemba Walker. Things went sour in Storrs after that. Calhoun retired in 2012 and UConn was barred from the NCAA tournament last season for failing to meet the NCAA’s academic progress measure. This year, the Huskies (30-8) became the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Wisconsin’s Ryan has won more than 700 games, coached in the NCAA tournament 13 straight years and reached the Sweet 16 six times – but not the Final Four. The Badgers (30-8) get their chance now.
After a string of losses, including three in five games, John Calipari’s young Wildcats were out of the polls and supposedly out of contention. Well, look at them now. Showcasing their talent and depth, the Wildcats (28-10) are playing with a cohesiveness and confidence that wasn’t there earlier in the season.