Four perennial college basketball powerhouses descend on the Big Easy this weekend in search of the big prize. Kentucky, Ohio State, Kansas and Louisville have combined for 49 Final Four appearances between them and all have their eyes on the national championship prize. Each team is capable of reaching its goal. Of course, only one will. Which team will that be? We’ll get to that but let’s first tackle the national semis and set up which teams will play for all the gumbo in Nawlins on Monday…
(1) Kentucky vs. (4) Louisville: Outside of Duke-North Carolina, there is probably no greater rivalry in college basketball than Kentucky-Louisville. This is an in-state grudge match of epic proportions. But there’s really only one epic team here.
The Wildcats are the bigger team, the deeper team and the most talented team. What’s most surprising is Kentucky gets it done with a group of freshmen and sophomores. Diaper Dandies Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis, along with sophomore Terrence Jones, all are NBA lottery picks waiting to happen. And that’s just the half of it. Including these four, Kentucky boasts six players that average double figures. And if that’s not impressive enough, this young bunch of hoops prodigies enthusiastically share the basketball! Scary.
Louisville isn’t chicken feed but head coach Rick Pitino must get the most out of his players…especially on defense. The Cardinals only chance may be 6’11″ Sultan of Swat Gorgui Dieng’s defense on Player of the Year candidate Davis. If Dieng can limit Davis maybe Louisville will have a shot. But with all the weapons the Wildcats have, containing Davis is only part of the equation. I just don’t see Louisville overcoming all that depth, talent and Similac.
(2) Ohio State vs. (2) Kansas: You thought North Carolina-Kansas was classic? Wait until Kansas-Ohio State hook-up on Saturday. This should be even better. The marquee match-up of the national semis.
Both teams are evenly matched and feature AP All-Americans in Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Thomas Robinson of Kansas. Both teams boast terrific point guards in Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. And both teams have players who have come up big in this tourney in Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas and Kansas guard Elijah Johnson.
This is a tough one to call. Robinson relishes the big stage and raised his game against Carolina. Sullinger, meanwhile, was strapped with foul trouble versus Syracuse. The x-factor could be Kansas center Jeff Withey’s play versus Sullinger in the paint. Withey has been hosting a block party lately and will have to continue his low-post presence against Ohio State. If Sullinger gets in foul trouble, it could spell trouble for Ohio State. Another factor will be the Taylor-Craft point guard match-up. Taylor broke out of his recent scoring slump against North Carolina and looks poised and confident going into this game. Craft is an excellent defender however. Foul trouble in this match-up could prove decisive as well. I’m putting my Mardi Gras beads on T-Rob, Taylor and Kansas.