Its Final Four time. The underdogs have been dealt with, and the Cinderellas have sent home: this one is exclusive. After a couple of seasons of upsets, and unlikely runs to the national semis, only the blue bloods of basketball made it through this one.
Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas are the four teams left, and they collectively combine for 13 National Championships and 44 Final Four appearances, counting this season(it would be 45, but Ohio State had a Final Four vacated by the NCAA).
The biggest question going into this seasons national semis is whether or not anyone can beat Kentucky. The Wildcats have scored at least 80 points in every tournament game, including a 102 point outburst against No. 4 seed Indiana. The y have been the hands down tournament favorite since they turned a tied ball game into a 20 point lead in nine minutes against a tough Iowa State team in the second round. Those feelings were only bolstered when they jumped out to a 22 point half time lead against Baylor in the regional finals. Kentucky has been a very tough team to play, out rebounding three of their four opponents-they tied Baylor at 29-and are shooting 53 percent over the four games. It only shot below 50 percent one time, but still put up 102 points.
Kentucky may have the most prolific offense left in the tournament, but it will face the stingiest defense in the Final Four. Louisville is holding teams to 57.5 points per game in the NCAA tournament, including holding No. 1 seed Michigan State to just 44 points in the Sweet Sixteen. That is the best defense effort in the tournament this season, matched by South Florida in the first round. It has held three teams under 40 percent shooting, and held the Spartans to a pitiful 28 percent shooting from the field. The Cardinals have held five of their last eight opponents to under 60 points, and under 50 on two occasions. Only Marquette was able to eclipse 70 since the first round of the Big East tournament with a whopping 71. No team has been able to corral Kentucky on offense in the tourney, and Indiana was unable to outscore it, so a new strategy could provide different results.
On the other side of the bracket, the major battle should be in the paint. Ohio State's Jared Sullinger will square off against Kansas' Thomas Robinson in what will be a showcase of two of the top post men in the college game. Both average 17 points per game to lead their teams, and have nearly identical stat lines with Robinson having a slight edge in rebounding. Both are accompanied in the middle, with Sullinger pairing with Deshaun Thomas, and Robinson with Jeff Withey. Thomas is much more dangerous on offense averaging 16 points per game, while Withey only averages 6, but gets three blocks per game with his longer reach. Kansas is taller, with Robinson being measured at 6'10'' and Withey at an even seven feet, and has more length on the interior, while both the Ohio State players carry more bulk. Sullinger and Thomas may have games that look a little better in the box score, but Robinson's and Withey's length and defense could have a larger impact on the game. It will be interesting to watch.
With only three games left in the college season(sorry Washington State and Pitt of the CBI, and Stanford and Minnesota at the NIT), the best of the best will be vying for immortality. And while having a Final Four banner is nice, having a championship is even nicer.