By LCR Contributor Barrell Rider
With 62 games in the books and only three games remaining, the 2012 Final Four is fixed. In typical fashion, this years iteration has produced plenty of upsets, heartbreak and fantastic finishes. It has brought out the best in both athletes and coaches...
This year there were plenty of upsets. In the first round there were two huge upsets that occured within a couple of hours of each other, both involved 15 seeds taking down two-seeds. Lehigh downed Duke 75-70 and Norfolk State stunned the Missouri Tigers 86-84. Prior to this 'Black Friday' for the two-seeds, this had only occured four other times; the last time was 2001 when two- seed Iowa State fell to 15 seed Hampton by a single point. Another first round upset saw 13 seed Ohio defeat four-seed Michigan en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance where the Bobcats pushed heavily favored traditional power North Carolina Tar Heels into overtime before falling.
The one-seeds also had a tough time this year, as three of the four have been eliminated from the field (Michigan State, Syracuse, North Carolina). Despite the woes incurred by some of the highest ranked teams in the tournament, this year’s final four is full of big dogs running towards the trophy in the Big Easy, New Orleans, Louisiana. The lone remaining one-seed, Kentucky faces Louisville in first game of the semi-final in the Bluegrass bracket. The other semi-final features some Midwest madness as the Ohio State Buckeyes clash with the Kansas Jayhawks. The teams in this years Final Four have 13 national championships between them, led by Kentucky’s seven.
Thoroughbreds, Bourbon, Basketball, all things Kentucky and I can’t help but think how appropriate it would be to see the fans of either Kentucky or Louisville celebrating on Bourbon Street should their team claim this year’s championship. Everyone in the state of Kentucky will have their loyalty tested in this one. The two campuses are separated by less than 75 miles. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is a former head coach at Kentucky and won the national title at the helm of the Wildcats in 1996. Coach Pitino took over the Louisville program in 2001 and led the Cardinals to a Final Four appearance in 2005. A few seasons ago there was speculation that Pitino may resign or be removed from his position over a sex scandal involving woman who was at the time married to an employee of the University. Pitino is a polarizing figure, but undoubtedly a hall of fame coach. The Louisville Cardinals boast a nice combination of size and athleticism. They can run and shoot and compliment it by playing a very physical defense with nice shot blocking ability anchored by 6 foot 11 center Gorgui Dieng. Offensively look for Kyle Kuric and Peyton Siva to be lighting up the scoreboard and distributing the rock.
As large as life as Rick Pitino is, Kentucky keeps pace with head coach John Calipari. Although Calipari is still seeking his first national title, he is, for the first time in his career, at the helm of a powerhouse program. Calipari is a proven winner and has produced some great NCAA teams and NBA talent including Marcus Camby and Derrick Rose. Calipari has a knack for recognizing talent and developing it immediately into Division 1 stardom. His critics knock him for his aggressive recruiting and the fact that many of his players leave school early in pursuit of professional basketball careers. Last season Kentucky was loaded with young talent and came up just short in the semi-final, falling to eventual champion UCONN. This season, Kentucky is also loaded with young talent. A trio of underclassmen, freshman sensations Michael Kidd-Gilcrist and Anthony Davis and sophomore Doron Lamb leads the team, anchored by senior Darius Miller. Kentucky is fast, can shoot and plays baseline to baseline.
Sliding over to the Midwest madness side of the bracket we have traditional powerhouse Kansas Jayhawks seeking their fourth national title vs. one of the power programs of the past few years the Ohio State Buckeyes. Kansas provides plenty of athleticism and flash led by big man Thomas Robinson who has an NBA and possibly an NFL physique, with NBA talent to boot. The Jayhawks also have a formidable guard tandem in Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson, who are bigger, faster and stronger than your average duo. They play on both sides of the ball and provide plenty of highlights.
The Ohio State Buckeyes offer less flash, but are deep on talent and size. The Buckeyes have their own NBA talent in Sophomore Jared Sullinger, who can hit the glass, post up , create shots off a dribble and knock down perimeter shots. Adding to power game of the Buckeyes is William Buford. The offense is driven by Aaron Craft, who is having a fantastic tournament and is said to solve a Rubiks cube in under two minutes.
It’s hard to argue that these four programs are elite on the hardwood. It should be an excellent three games in New Orleans. Looking at the matchups on paper it would seem that Kentucky and Kansas will advance to the finals. I am predicting a Kentucky vs. Ohio State final with the Wildcats winning their eighth national title.