If there are any regular readers, I apologize for not posting over the last 16 days, especially through the bulk of the NCAA tournament.
In the last 16 days the Heat have been slumping, two 15 seeds upset two 2 seeds, the Celtics beat the Hawks (damn it!), the Heat got revenge on the Mavs (again), people started talking about Durant as MVP (ha!), Larry Drew showed Mike Woodson who’s boss (neither is really boss), Kentucky scored 102 points, the legend of the unibrow grew, Peyton Siva morphed into Kemba Walker, UNC’s trio declared for the draft (good riddance!), every 19 year old went pro, and most importantly, Florida’s Erving Walker stole a taco from a street vendor and was chased by police. Cars were involved. The real travesty here is that the taco was three dollars. From a vendor! It’s not even three bucks at Taco Bell, and this guy is charging like it’s Morton’s Steakhouse.
Anyway, amidst all of that the rest of the bracket took shape and as you know we have Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisville in the Final Four. I nailed three of the teams in my bracket, and if you read my previews, I have to say I’m thrilled that I changed my finals from Missouri-Syracuse to Ohio State vs. Kentucky.
Clearly I missed on a few things: I had Michigan in the elite eight, thanks Ohio. I had Missouri in my Final Four, thanks Norfolk State. Duke lost to Lehigh… and then Lehigh almost beat Xavier. So we can’t say that this year didn’t include some awesome upsets, but we can say that some of the most talented teams in the nation are in the Final Four. All of these teams reached at least number four in the national polls and each team has an abundance of five and four star McDonald’s All American talents. You can (arguably) say that at least one of the two most talented teams from each region made the Final Four this year. I mean, let’s look at this: Louisville, Florida, and Michigan State were the most talented teams in the West Region. Missouri and Marquette are largely products of the systems they played in, and those players buying in. Based on raw talent, those teams were filled with a bunch of three star recruits that bettered themselves and bought into systems. Florida, on the other hand, had the best and most talented backcourt in the entire nation. That team was oozing with talent at both guard positions: Walker, Boytnon, and Beal. Up front they had the physical monster Patric Young (he needs to put a K on the end of that name!), and they had Billy Donavan on the sidelines. So while they may have been a seven seed, that team was filled with ballers. Michigan State and Lousiville both featured a bunch of young talent, but mainly Louisville as they have ultra-talented freshmen like Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan. Those athletic youngsters were only the tip of the iceberg, though. Peyton Siva, Russ and Chris Smith, and Kyle Kuric round out the rest of a Cardinals team that easily had the talent to reach the Final Four.
Kentucky was up-and-away the most talented team in their region, and they faced the up-and-away second most talented team in their region in the Elite Eight in Baylor– and they slaughtered them. Kansas was the second most talented team in their region, but when Kendall Marshall went down they became the first. With that marked advantage they marched on. Similarly, Ohio State was the second most talented team in their region until Fab Melo was suspended, leaving Syracuse with a dearth of talented front court players. Upon that, Sullinger and the Buckeyes became the favorites to win their region.
So we may only have a single one-seed in the final four, but the most talented teams did march on, and so in a way, this was almost to be expected.
What makes this Final Four so great, however, is the story lines.
Who could have scripted the Kentucky-Louisville Final Four game? I mean, truly, this is a battle for contemporary supremacy between these programs. Two years ago– Louisville had the upper hand throughout the decade. Now, Kentucky’s surge of sheer dominance has them on top and Louisville’s bunch of misfits are going to try and take down big brother. Louisville has no business winning this game. That much is clear. But this is a rivalry game, and anything can happen when two teams that hate each other take the court for a single game. Kentucky may win nine out of 10 times, but Louisville might win once, and that’s all they need. Look at the other great rivalry games this year: Duke had no business beating Carolina on their home floor, but a miraculous rally led by a late Blue Devil addition, Tyler Zeller (ha) and Austin Rivers gave Duke what might be the most exciting win of the year. Missouri had no business beating a Kansas team who exposed every single one of their flaws, but Marcus Denmon had other plans and sparked a fantastic late comeback. When two teams like this meet, anything can happen, especially with the stakes this high.
Having said all that, Kentucky is easily the best team in the Final Four. They’ve been the best team throughout the tournament and they’re the best team right now. It’s really not even close, but that doesn’t mean they can’t lose. I tend to agree with Chuck Klosterman of Grantland’s opinion on this one. Kentucky deserves to win this tournament more than anyone else at this point, but I pray to God they don’t. If they do, it’ll show that Calipari’s method works and that to compete with him coaches will have to become him. The only problem is there are only so many five stars out there, and while a majority of certain programs get those five stars, the lines will become even more defined between the historically dominant and the historically weak. Programs will load, dump off at the draft, and then reload while the rest stand there begging for talented kids. This will only happen to the elites, though: Kentucky, Syracuse, UConn, UCLA, Kansas, Duke, UNC, maybe even Michigan State. It will be a cycle of one and dones like we’ve rarely seen if Kentucky ushers in this period of dominance. I’m happy Klosterman pointed that out, but I’m also terrified for the future of college basketball.
Still, I see nothing wrong with what Calipari is doing. He’s playing within the rules of the system, so more power to him. The problem is in the system itself. I personally prefer the older way of doing things where if a player wants to come straight out of high school then let him. Having college basketball be a one year pit stop isn’t the way to go, and there should probably be a mandatory two years if they do decide to go to college.
Anyway, back to the Final Four. Kentucky should beat up on Louisville and win by anywhere between seven and fifteen points. I don’t think it will be a blowout, but Kentucky will be the easily defined winner. There is just too much talent.
Ohio State vs. Kansas should be an interesting game, but I don’t think it’s really a debate that Ohio State is the better team. Defensively, there is no contest. Some talking heads at ESPN say that Craft will be in over his head vs. Tyshawn Taylor, but that’s where I want to get up and slap someone. Craft isn’t Greg Paulus. Just because he’s white doesn’t mean he’s slow, bad on defense, and only shoots three pointers. There is a reason Craft was Big Ten defensive player of the year as a point guard (which is insanely difficult to do). There is no reason, however, to ignore the fact that Taylor is an absolute turnover machine. If anyone has watched Craft in this tournament, they’ll know that he forces turnovers like almost no one else in the NCAA. How is this going to go for Kansas when they have a dominant scoring guard who can facilitate and rebound but has a HUGE turnover problem when he faces Aaron Craft who will force you turn the ball over before you can say that Erving Walker stole that taco.
Kansas has no one to guard DeShaun Thomas unless Elijah Johnson takes a stab at the wing/forward, but Thomas spends way too much time down low for Johnson or Releford to cover him. If they put Robinson on him, that means they’d have to put Withey on Sullinger, and Sullinger would beast his way through Withey every day of the weak. They need Robinson to guard Sullinger because he’s the only one strong enough to do so. There are match up problems on both ends, though. Robinson is faster than Sullinger and Withey is taller than everyone out there. Johnson and Taylor should be relatively contained with Craft and Buford playing their fantastic perimeter defense.
This will be a much closer game than Kentucky vs. Louisville, but there is a reason Kansas could hardly beat Ohio State without Sullinger earlier this season. With Sully, Kansas isn’t going to win this game.
Come back tomorrow for the National Championship match-up preview, but if you asked me right now, I’d begrudgingly say Kentucky over Ohio State, with the death of college basketball as we know it on the side.