Final Four Outlook

By Michael Almonte

There are three games left in the college basketball season as all eyes will be on the Superdome this weekend when the Final Four takes place setting the stage for a new champion to be crowned.

The last four squads Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio St. and Kansas have endured a tough season and overcame all those challenges to be making the journey to New Orleans. Going into the weekend, the Wildcats are the prohibited favorites to be cutting down the nets next Monday night and have their One Shining Moment. The other three teams will look to spoil Kentucky’s championship plans and leave their mark on the 2012 college basketball season.

The first semi-final scheduled for 6:09 EST on CBS is an interstate match-up between Louisville and Kentucky as a spot in the title game is on the line. These two teams who meet every year during the regular season squared off back on December 31st in Lexington as the Wildcats prevailed 69-62. In that contest Kentucky star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist produced an incredible double-double with 24 points and 19 rebounds. The Cardinal were led by Russ Smith who scored 30 points in the lost. That game seems like forever has both teams have made great strides as the season has progressed. For the third straight season, the winner of the Big East Tournament has advanced to the Final Four with West Virginia advancing in 2010 and Connecticut duplicating that feat last year. Louisville is hoping history will repeat itself a year later as UCONN rode their momentum from winning five games in five days to win the Big East crown and rode that wave into the tournament winning the National Championship in remarkable fashion.

This marks the second time Kentucky coach John Calipari will face off with Louisville coach Rick Pitino in the Final Four as Pitino got the best of Calipari’s UMASS  club back in 1996 as Kentucky defeated them 81-74 in a match-up of No. 1 seeds. Two days later Pitino’s Wildcats won the National Championship over Syracuse 76-67 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  Kentucky’s path is very similar to that of North Carolina when the Tar Heels ultimately won the crown in 2009. In 2007 UNC lost in the Elite Eight, rebounded in 2008 advancing to the Final Four before losing to eventual champion Kansas in the National Semi-final and then won the title the next year over a Big Ten team in Michigan State. If you go back to Kentucky’s road, in 2010 that Wildcat team lost in the Elite Eight and then last year made the trip to the Final Four where they eventually succumbed to eventual champion Connecticut. If Kentucky follows the same path they should defeat another Big Ten team in Ohio St. in the title game. We shall see how this story plays out.

The Wildcats are looking to win their eighth title and first since 1998 and Louisville is looking to capture their third crown since last winning it all back in 1986.

The second game slated for 8:49 EST is another regular season rematch as two No. 2 seeds will duke it out as Ohio St. faces Kansas. These two teams meet up in Lawrence back on December 10th as the Jayhawks won that battle 78-67. Tyshawn Taylor dished out 13 assists and Thomas Robinson led the team with 21 points in the victory. The Buckeyes played the game without their star Jared Sullinger who was nursing a back injury. William Buford scored a team high 21 points and Deshaun Thomas chipped in with 19 points in the lost.

Both teams will be at full strength for round two in the Superdome as you can anticipate a close game brewing. The Sullinger-Robinson match-up will definitely be the focal one in this game and foul trouble could be the difference in who wins.  Another great match-up that could determine the game is Ohio St.’s star and tenacious defender Aaron Craft who will have his hands full guarding Taylor.

Kansas is looking to win the school’s fourth title and second under Coach Bill Self who led the team back in 2008 to the crown.  It’s been 52 years since the Buckeyes lost won a National Championship back in 1960 and this year’s squad is looking to solidify their place in school history with a championship.

It’s not surprising all four of these teams made it to the Final Four because all four were picked in the Preseason top 15 back in October.  This Final Four features three first team All-Americans in Sullinger, Robinson and Anthony Davis.

If the last four Final Four’s in New Orleans is any indication then expect a phenomenal weekend and memories that will last a life-time. I look for a Kentucky-Ohio St. title game next Monday night and the Wildcats prevailing in a close encounter.  If this game does take place it will mark the second straight tournament these teams meet as Kentucky edged Ohio St. 62-60 in last year’s Sweet 16.

 

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