Final Four weekend is finally here, the time of the year where the four teams lucky (and skilled) enough to win their regionals battle it out for a chance for the chance to be King of College Hoops and the headliner of CBS’ “One Shining Moment”. While this tournament may have lacked the drama of buzzer beater shots and shocking upsets (outside of Kyle O’Quinn and Norfolk State: recapped here), the four teams remaining are very deserving to be in New Orleans this weekend and are sure to give us, the fans, three more entertaining college basketball games this season. Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas and Ohio State are the four teams left with the chance to be called “Champions” and you can be assured that both games on Saturday evening and the NCAA Championship on Monday night are going to be high quality basketball games with extremely talented ball clubs and coaching staffs. Kentucky vs. Louisville tips off in just over 24 hours at 6:09 EST Saturday, with Ohio State vs. Kansas to follow shortly after at approximately 8:49, both games on CBS.
The University of Kentucky Wildcats are the one team that almost everybody who follows college basketball had predicted to still be playing this week. They are also the youngest team still in the tournament, playing primarily freshman and sophomores. The Wildcats best player is 6’10” all-everything freshman Anthony Davis (known by some simply as Unibrow) who today was presented with many awards including Associated Press Player of the Year. Unless you have been living under a rock or have zero interest in the sport of basketball you must have heard about Anthony Davis, the best 19 year old basketball player on the planet. Davis averaged 14.3 points, 10 rebounds and an astounding 4.6 blocks per game while shooting 64.2 percent shooting on the year, and in the process worked his way towards a projected #1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. One of his freshman teammates may be selected immediately after him, as 6’7” small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is currently projected by nbadraft.net to be the #2 overall pick in this year’s draft. The freshman class brought in by Coach John Calipari also includes 5 star players out of high school Marquis Teague (brother of Hawks guard Jeff Teague) and Kyle Wiltjer. These freshman join two key sophomore players Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, who each have NBA expectations of their own, who are the two of the top scorers on this loaded Kentucky team. The head coach is John Calipari who has the dubious distinction of being the only head coach to have a Final Four vacated at more than one school (Memphis 2008, UMass 1996), but he is one of the best coaches in college hoops and a strong leader.
Kentucky will be squaring off tomorrow evening against a familiar foe, the University of Louisville, led by Coach Rick Pitino. Louisville, the Big East Tournament Champions this season, does not have quite the same talent level as their rivals from Lexington this year but are more than capable of competing tomorrow night. Peyton Siva is the Junior leader of this team from the point guard position and he has the ability to command a game and get his teammates into situations where they can succeed. The leading scorer on this Cardinal squad is Kyle Kuric who has averaged about 13 points per game this year, while Russ Smith is the only other player to average double figures. Sophomore Gorgui Dieng is a monster on the glass averaging 9 rebounds a game, so Kentucky’s big men will need to be prepared to box him out. This two teams met early in the season when both teams were ranked in the top 5, New Years Eve in Lexington, and Kentucky came away with a 7 point lead at home (69-62) so that game should be a good pre-cursor to what happens tomorrow. The stakes in New Orleans are much higher and whichever team can quell their nerves best and play their game should have the best chance of winning. It’s for sure going to be an exciting game.
The other game of the night matches up Ohio State versus Kansas. Like the Kentucky/Louisville matchup these teams did meet earlier in the season also, with Kansas taking that one 78-67 on December 10 in Lawrence. Ohio State’s best player Jared Sullinger was injured and did not participate in that contest so his presence may change the outcome of this rematch. Both teams have vastly improved since that game also so it will be interesting to see what adjustments they both make. This game will come down to how well Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor can score and move the ball against one of the best on-ball defenders in the college game in Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. In the paint, while they probably won’t match up against each other defensively the impact of KU’s Thomas Robinson and the Buckeye’s aforementioned Jared Sullinger will have a monster impact too. I am expecting this, like the Kentucky/Louisville game, to be a very tightly contested game and foul trouble may come into play more than anyone would like. Coaches Bill Self and Thad Matta are two of the best game managers in the college ranks, so expect them both to be ready for whatever happens tomorrow night.
The Final Four is back in New Orleans and players and fans from all four schools are ready to celebrate on Bourbon Street. By the end of tomorrow evening only two teams will still have the dream of being crowned 2012 Kings of the Court and the two losers will have long flights back to campus to reflect on this season, what was and what could have been. I can’t wait to watch these games and see who rises up and takes over on college basketball’s biggest stage, should be an exciting weekend for all fans. I’ll be pulling for Kentucky and Big Blue Nation, comment here and let me know who you are rooting for!