Crowning a champ before it starts

The Gators won't stop Napier. But they'll corral him, limit his driving lanes, push him off the 3-point line and cut down his options. Prather, Will Yeguete and others will help. They must. Every time Napier drives, they'll help Wilbekin neutralize UConn's top threat. That will put more pressure on DeAndre Daniels, who has played well throughout the NCAA tourney, and Ryan Boatright to shoulder the offensive load. That's not a position that Daniels and Boatright have encountered in the tourney. But they will Saturday when Napier struggles for the first time since his 7-for-22 effort in his team's overtime win against Saint Joseph's in the opening round.

Florida is ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy data. Its defensive aptitude has increased since December. But the Gators are also a better offensive team. They committed 16 turnovers in that loss to UConn. Wilbekin, however, has recorded just two turnovers in the NCAA tournament and zero in his past two games. The Gators are more controlled now. So they'll employ their balance, something they've done throughout this season, to avenge that Dec. 2 loss to UConn. Prather will slash and Young will be aggressive inside, draw early fouls against Daniels and hinder an already thin frontcourt. Wilbekin will be the maestro on both ends -- blanketing Napier and avoiding mistakes that could cost Florida on offense -- and help Florida withstand anything that Napier drums up in the final minutes.

The first game matters. Even though they weren't 100 percent, the Gators played well and lost. If Wilbekin had been available in the final minutes, Napier might have missed that buzzer-beater. But there's also a chance that Wilbekin's presence might not have changed the outcome. Napier was really good then. And he's a superstar right now. But Florida is healthy and complete now. The Gators don't rely on one guy. They're diverse enough to ruin dreams without a Shabazz-like outing from an individual player. The Huskies are as confident as any team in the field. And Napier's four-game stretch has been impressive. But in his team's last game prior to the tourney, a 71-61 loss to Louisville in the American tournament, Napier went 4-for-12 and 2-for-7 from the 3-point line. He was mortal. And Florida will bring Napier & Co. back down to earth on Saturday, too. Expect more Napier magic. But it won't be enough to earn a trip to Monday's national title game.

Prediction: Florida 68, Connecticut 64


Monday's title game: Kentucky vs. Florida

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