The Road To the Final Four: Which Team Had the Toughest Path?

Which Final Four team has been tested most in the NCAA Tournament?

This year's NCAA Tournament has been a wild ride. We saw perennial contenders go down in the opening weekend and several double-digit seeds playing in the Sweet 16, finally narrowing the field of 68 down to the Final Four.

There is no such thing as an easy road to the Final Four. Winning four games against four of the top 68 teams in college basketball is no easy task for any team, but some roads are filled with more potholes than others.

Each of this year's remaining four teams took a different route to cutting down the nets in their region. Florida, the tournament's number one overall seed, has won every single one of their NCAA Tournament games by 10 or more points, while their Final Four opponent, UConn, needed an extra five minutes just to get past Saint Joseph's in their opening game.

Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky all had to earn their way into the tournament's final weekend with hard work and perseverance, but which team faced the toughest test? Here is a closer look at which team our metrics thought had the hardest path to this weekend's Final Four.

Want to know who will surprise, who will bust out, and who will take the tournament? Check out our bracket picks, our game simulator, and more!

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Kentucky, 8 Seed, Winners of the Midwest Region

OpponentSeednERD ScorenERD Rank
Kansas State99.3546th
Wichita State115.5310th

Considering Kentucky has the largest number next to it's name, it makes sense that they would have the toughest road to the final weekend. But what's shocking is just how tough it was. The Wildcats are the only team in the Final Four that had the honor of facing four different teams with nERD scores inside of the top 50, and was the only team to face four opponents with a nERD larger than nine.

After an impressive 56-49 opening round victory over a Kansas State squad that many people picked to knock off the Wildcats, The Midwest Region champions found themselves in a dog fight with the region's number one seed, undefeated Wichita State. Despite 31 points from Cleanthony Early, Kentucky was able to knock off the Shockers in one of the best games of the tournament on the back of 13 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists from star forward Julius Randle. It was this game that truly opened people's eyes and made them realize that this Kentucky squad was different than the one that lost to South Carolina just a month ago.

Following their win over the Midwest Region's top seed, the Wildcats faced what our metrics view as an even tougher test in a familiar matchup against in-state rival Louisville. Although they currently have the second-best nERD in the nation behind Arizona (who I'll get to a little later), at the time of their Sweet 16 matchup, the Cardinals had the number one nERD in the country and were an incredibly dangerous team. This young Kentucky team was able to limit their turnovers against the vaunted Louisville press before knocking off the Cardinals in an extremely close 74-69 win.

The Elite Eight provided Kentucky with another stern test against the second-seeded Michigan Wolverines. Michigan was an experienced team who played decent defense and could shoot the lights out. It took everything the Wildcats had, including a clutch, game-winning contested three from Aaron Harrison to beat Michigan and make it to the Final Four.

While the numbers do show that Kentucky had an incredibly tough road to the Final Four, the metrics just simply do not do it justice. By defeating Wichita State, Michigan and last year's champions, Louisville, Kentucky became the first team in NCAA Tournament history to defeat three of last year's Final Four teams. Very few people picked the Wildcats because of their youth and lack of experience but, as they often do, Big Blue proved that they are indeed one of the elite teams in college basketball.

UConn, 7 Seed, Winners of the East Region

OpponentSeednERD ScorenERD Rank
St. Josephs108.2260th
Iowa State314.615th
Michigan State415.749th

Much like Kentucky, UConn had to beat two teams with top-10 nERD scores in the country in Villanova and Michigan State en route to the Final Four. Also, similarly to the Wildcats, the Huskies had to play a number of razor close games in order to make it to the final weekend of the tournament.

As I mentioned earlier, UConn was pushed to the brink as early as their opening matchup with Saint Joseph's. The Huskies were losing nearly the entire game, but were somehow able to outlast the Hawks in overtime. If it weren't for some late game heroics by star guard Shabazz Napier, this UConn squad would have been a first round out and an after thought in the story of this tournament.

Surprisingly, the one game that the East region champions were able to win by double digits was against the team that, according to both the selection committee and our metrics, was their toughest opponent of the tournament in the Villanova Wildcats. Despite being a two seed, many people thought that Nova was overrated and the Huskies proved that to be true.

Although Iowa State was able to knock off a talented UNC team, they were simply not the same team without Georges Niang. With that said, UConn was able to contain Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane and knocked off ISU in another close game, largely in part to 27 points and 10 rebounds from DeAndre Daniels. Very few people gave the Huskies a chance in their next game against perennial contender Michigan State, who was an extremely popular pick to make it to the Final Four. But Sparty struggled to score and simply could not stop Napier, who torched MSU for 26 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

While many people didn't give UConn much of a chance to make a deep run in this tournament, the Huskies proved that, when you have a player like Shabazz Napier, anything is possible. As much credit as Napier deserves, coach Kevin Ollie deserves just as much. Ollie has coached in Jim Calhoun's shadow for two years, but after this run there is no question that he is one of the elite coaches in college basketball.

Wisconsin, 2 Seed, Winners of the West Region

OpponentSeednERD ScorenERD Rank

Although the Badgers weren't the most popular pick to come out of the West, their road to the Final Four didn't have the same depth of opponents as we saw for Kentucky and UConn. Although they did have to go through Arizona, the team with the highest nERD in the nation, the Wildcats were the only team Wisconsin had to face that was even had a top 20 nERD score.

Despite being down early in their opening matchup against American, Wisconsin turned on the jets and absolutely dismantled the Eagles in the second half, going on to win by a whopping 40 points. Following their destruction of the Eagles, Wisconsin faced a talented, athletic Oregon squad. The Badgers offense proved to be too overwhelming for the Ducks to handle. The Badgers were able to overcome 29 points from Joseph Young and pulled out a 85-77 victory. In the Sweet 16, Wisconsin was able to jump out to an early lead by knocking down jump shot after jump shot. The Badgers mauled the Bears (no, this isn't the discovery channel) in the first half and never looked back, cruising to a 69-52 win.

With American, Oregon and Baylor in their rear-view mirror, Wisconsin set their sights on the West region's number one seeded Arizona Wildcats. Arizona's size and athleticism made them an incredibly tough matchup, but the Wildcats had no answer for the West region's most outstanding player, Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky, who dropped 28 points and 11 rebounds. Even with Aaron Gordon grabbing 18 rebounds for the Wildcats, Wisconsin outplayed Arizona down the stretch to send the game into overtime, and after a controversial call gave Arizona the ball back with a chance to win the game, the Badgers survived Nick Johnson's last effort and cut down the nets.

As good of a coach as Bo Ryan has been throughout his career, this will be his first trip to the Final Four. He is a tremendous coach who has his team playing together more so than any other team left in this tournament. These Badgers love each other, love basketball and have as much fun as anyone in the country, which has made them an extremely fun team to watch throughout the tournament.

Florida, 1 Seed, Winners of the South Region

OpponentSeednERD ScorenERD Rank

After closing the regular season out on a 26-game winning streak, Florida earned the number one overall seed in the tournament. Despite that, many people thought that the South region was loaded with dangerous teams that could be threats to the Gators title hopes. With that said, Florida didn't have to face a single team with a nERD in the top 10, and played against a Dayton squad that had a nERD under 10 in the Elite Eight.

Florida started its run to the Final Four by knocking off a thoroughly overmatched Albany squad, the only team that any of the Final Four squads played that had a negative nERD. Their next opponent, Pittsburgh, was very strong for a nine seed, but simply didn't have the firepower to match up with this loaded Gators team. The Panthers couldn't penetrate Florida's stellar defense, and every single Pitt player struggled on offense. In fact, Talib Zanna was the only Panther to score in double figures.

Next up for Florida was UCLA, a team that many thought would give the Gators trouble. The size, length and athleticism of the Bruins backcourt was a scary matchup for the tournament's number one overall seed, but Kyle Anderson never got it going and the Gator's depth proved to be too much for UCLA. After defeating the Bruins, Florida found themselves in a matchup with Cinderella against the Dayton Flyers. Although the Flyers had an impressive run knocking off Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford, the Gators were a completely different beast. Scottie Wilbekin dropped 23 points and Patric Young added four blocks en route to a 62-52 win.

According to our metrics, Florida's road to the Final Four was by far the easiest, and it showed. The Gators weren't heavily tested and it showed, winning each contest by double digits. Even their matchup with UConn, who ranks 23rd in the nation with a 13.47 nERD, is a relatively easy matchup on paper. If Florida is able to beat UConn and Kentucky is able to knock off Wisconsin, Florida will go the entire tournament without playing a single team with a top 10 nERD. Like I said earlier, no run to the Final Four is easy, but Florida's path was not nearly as difficult as Kentucky's, UConn's or Wisconsin's.