One of the great sporting events takes place this weekend as the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament takes place at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The top seeded Kentucky Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Kansas Jayhawks are the four teams that qualified for this glamorous showcase of college basketball. Many NBA scouts will be in attendance as they look for young talent that can help their teams in the future. So with that in mind, here’s a preview of the weekend’s matchups.
Louisville vs. Kentucky
The battle of the bluegrass state. One of the great rivalries in college basketball. These two school are only 80 miles apart and have no love loss for each other. The Wildcats are favoured to win the National Championship and have arguably the best player in college basketball in Anthony Davis. The 6″10 freshman power forward is a force in the low post averaging 14.3 points per game but it’s his defence that has NBA scouts drooling. His long arms help him average an astounding 4.6 blocks per game which forces teams to use the perimeter game. The Wildcats have used Davis’s dominating interior presence to run through Western Kentucky, Iowa State, Indiana and Baylor in the tournament, without being pushed too hard in the tourney. The health of Davis is a concern as he did suffer a knee contusion in the Baylor game but is expected to start for the Wildcats.
Louisville’s run through the tourney was a little more difficult. Close wins over Davidson and New Mexico got the Cardinals into the Sweet Sixteen. Their best game was an upset over Michigan State as Louisville held the Spartans to just 28% shooting and 44 points. Louisville made it the final four after a hard-fought come from behind win over Florida after trailing by 11 in the second half. The Cardinals don’t have that one big time scorer, however the backcourt combination of Kyle Kuric and Russ Smith can light it up from the outside. Both are over 30% from the 3 point line and will have to be accurate from the outside if Louisville are to pull off the upset.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino is well-known to Kentucky fans, as he led the Wildcats to the National Championship in 1996 and he would like nothing more than to beat his former team. Kentucky coach John Calipari is looking for his first National title after coming so close in 2008 with Memphis and last year with the Wildcats, losing a one point heartbreaker to eventual National Champions UConn in the semifinals.
Prediction: Louisville will play Kentucky tough and rivalry games are never easy to predict. But I think Kentucky is too deep and so strong defensively that they will shut down, Louisville’s post game and make the Cardinals one-dimensional. Davis will draw double teams leaving the outside wide open for Kentucky and the Wildcats are more athletic. Kentucky wins by 10.
Ohio State vs. Kansas
Two perennial underachievers finally reach the big dance after many years of disappointments. Ohio State made it to the show after victories over Loyola MD, Gonzaga, Cincinnati and favoured Syracuse. The Buckeyes are led by sophomore Jared Sullinger. The 6″9 power forward led the team by averaging 17.6 points per game and despite his height, can drain the outside bomb if he has too. A versatile performer, Sullinger makes 53.1% of his field goals but isn’t afraid to move the ball around to set up teammates. Small forward Deshaun Thomas benefits from the attention Sullinger receives. While Sullinger draws attention in the interior, the 6″7 sophomore is left open on the outside and it has helped him average 16 points per game. Ohio State is an athletic side who will run the floor but for the most part, will use a halfcourt offence.
Kansas had a hard road to the final four as they trailed in every game before coming back to defeat the likes of Detroit, Purdue, North Carolina State, and favoured North Carolina. The Jayhawks offence revolves around forward Thomas Robinson. The 6″10 junior averages 17.7 points per game and will create a terrific one-on-one matchup with Jared Sullinger. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor was outstanding in the Jayhawks win over North Carolina pouring in 22 points while shutting down the Tar Heels’ perimeter game. The senior would love to end his career with a National title so motivation may be a factor for Kansas.
These two teams met earlier in the season at Allen Fieldhouse back on December 10 with Kansas emerging with a 78-67 win. However, Jared Sullinger was not in the Ohio State lineup so don’t too closely into that result.
Prediction: We haven’t had a buzzer beater finish yet but this game has the potential of being that. Robinson vs. Sullinger will probably cancel each other out so it will be decided by outside shooting. Flip a coin in this one but my gut feeling tells me Ohio State wins a very close game.
If my picks are right, I have Kentucky vs. Ohio State National Championship game and I like Kentucky to cut down the nets on Monday night and win the school’s 8th National crown.
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