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Final Four Preview: Kentucky vs. Louisville

March 28, 2012 in Final Four, Preview

Who/When: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals, Saturday, 6:09 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg

How They Got Here: Kentucky beat No. 16 Western Kentucky, 81-66, No. 8 Iowa State, 87-71, No. 4 Indiana, 102-90, and No. 3 Baylor, 82-70; Louisville defeated No. 13 Davidson, 69-62, No. 5 New Mexico, 59-56, No. 1 Michigan State, 57-44, and No. 7 Florida, 72-68.

Coaches: John Calipari (503–152 overall, 100-14 in three seasons at Kentucky); Rick Pitino (616–227 overall, 262–99 in 11 seasons at Louisville)

Kentucky in the Final Four:
Overall: 15th appearance
Last Appearance: 2011, lost to UConn., 56-55, in national semifinals
Last Championship: 1998, defeated Utah, 78–69
Number of Titles: 7 (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998)

Louisville in the Final Four:
Overall: 9th appearance
Last Appearance: 2005, lost to Illinois, 72-57, in national semifinals
Last Title: 1986, defeated Duke, 72-69
Number of Titles: 2 (1980, 1986)

Kentucky's View: The Wildcats cruised pretty easily through the first four games of the tournament, paced by their killer combination of Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — who could match many NBA rosters in terms of talent. They've got a great offense and defense, are playing with poise and composure (considering there are only four juniors and seniors on the entire roster and none in the starting line-up). The team simply has been better than every opponent this season. But it has lost two games — and that's the rub on a single-elimination tournament. They might be the best team every time they play, but a Final Four is so much more than just what happens on the court. It's the battle of the coaches, the friends and family in the stands and, in this case, the animosity between two schools they occupy the same state and have two crazy-mad fan bases. There's no doubting that UK has everything it takes to win the title, but there are many other factors it must battle — including the fact that it lost the last time it entered New Orleans as the overwhelming favorite: that came in the SEC tournament title game to Vanderbilt, 71-64.

Louisville's View: If the Cardinals are going to beat the Wildcats, a few things need to happen. One, their defense must play the best game it has played all season. Louisville held Michigan State to 28.6 percent shooting and just 18 first-half points while Draymond Green scored just 13 points. Kentucky's Anthony Davis is better than Green and the Wildcats have a more potent and balanced scoring attack than the Spartans. But the Cardinals have a mix of tricks that can totally confuse the Wildcats and Pitino is doing his best Bill Belichick impression when it comes to defensive wizardry. The biggest test, believe it or not, for Louisville is going to come on offense, as the Cardinals are not a scoring machine and the Wildcats have a very good defense.

Quotable: "There will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us. You've got to watch. They've got to put the fences up on bridges. There will be people consumed by Louisville." – Rick Pitino after capturing the West Regional Final

What I Expect: This game will come down to the battle when Kentucky has the ball. If the Cardinals can slow down the Wildcats, which I think is feasible, then it'll be lower scoring and slower in tempo. But Louisville just doesn't have enough weapons to completely shut down Kentucky the way it did to Michigan State. They were fortunate to vanquish Florida — and Kentucky is much better than the Gators.

Prediction: Kentucky returns to the national championship game.

West Regional Final Preview

March 23, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 4 Louisville Cardinals vs. No. 7 Florida Gators, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (CBS)

Where: USAirways Center, Phoenix

Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller

How They Got Here: Louisville defeated No. 13 Davidson, 69-62, No. 5 New Mexico, 59-56, and No. 1 Michigan State, 57-44; Florida defeated No. 10 Virginia, 71-45, No. 15 Norfolk State, 84-50, and No. 3 Marquette, 68-58.

Coaches: Rick Pitino (Louisville) and Billy Donovan (Florida)

History: Louisville is 2-3 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached the Final Four eight times overall (1959, 1972, 1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2005); Florida is 4-1 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached the Final Four four times (1994, 2000, 2006, 2007)

Why Louisville Will Win: Their defense totally shut down Michigan State and held Draymond Green to 13 points and Brandon Wood to 14. Overall, the Spartans shot just 28.6 percent from the field and looked uncomfortable the entire night. The Cardinals shot 38.2 percent from the field but managed to turn on their offense in the second half to put away the Big 10 tournament champions. They have the kind of defense that can shut down any team any night and Florida is no exception. The Cardinals' huge bonus against Michigan State was center Gorgui Dieng, who played the entire 40 minutes, blocked seven shots, grabbed nine rebounds and made the first three-pointer of his career. Meanwhile, Chane Behanan had 15 points and Russ Smith had 11. The Cardinals' defense has been relentless all season and can befuddle the Gators easily.

Why Florida Will Win: Their offense. Against Marquette, hardly a defensive pushover, the Gators shot 40 percent from the field and held the Golden Eagles to 30 percent shooting. Marquette has a better offense than Louisville, so Florida can duplicate the effort against Louisville. Bradley Beal had 21 points last night, and can produce the kind of guard play that Michigan State didn't produce last night. The Gators can make Louisville's defense look out of sorts and not make the same mistakes that the Spartans continued to produce.

What I Expect: This is the classic battle of two hot teams who specialize in opposite sides of the ball. The Gators' offense will not do as well against Louisville's defense as they did against Marquette's, but then again, the Cardinals will not be as effective against the Gators as they were against the Spartans. The game should come down to the end, and the Cardinals are not always in position to win these kind of games against superior opponents. Florida is, and that'll be the difference.

Prediction: Gators return to the Final Four.

West Region Sweet 16 Preview

March 20, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals, 7:47 p.m. (TBS); No. 7 Florida Gators vs. No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

Where: USAirways Center, Phoenix

Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore and Reggie Miller

How They Got Here: MSU defeated No. 16 LIU, 89-67, and No. 9 St. Louis, 65-61; Louisville defeated No. 13 Davidson, 69-62, and No. 5 New Mexico, 59-56; Marquette defeated No. 14 BYU, 88-68, and No. 6 Murray State, 62-53; Florida defeated No. 10 Virginia, 71-45, and No. 15 Norfolk State, 84-50.

Coaches: Tom Izzo (MSU), Rick Pitino (Louisville), Billy Donovan (Florida), Brent "Buzz" Williams (Marquette)

Team Leaders:

Category Michigan State
Louisville Florida Marquette
Points Draymond Green (16.3) Kyle Kuric (13) Kenny Boynton (16.1) Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5)
Rebounds Draymond Green (10.5) Gorgui Dieng (9.1) Bradley Beal (6.7) Jae Crowder (8.4)
Assists Keith Appling/
Draymond Green (3.9)
Peyton Siva (5.5) Erving Walker (4.6) Junior Cadougan (5.4)

What To Expect: Michigan State and Louisville are both pretty decent offensively and very skilled on the defensive end. The Spartans average 68.6 points a game and allow 61.1 (34th in the country), while the Cardinals are good for 72.4 points a game while allowing 59.4. Pitino and Izzo are veterans and have been known to will teams far beyond what might be expected. Izzo, after all, has been to six Final Fours as MSU head coach, while Pitino is the only coach in NCAA history to take three teams (Louisville, Kentucky, and Providence College) to the Final Four. The pedigree is there, and the talent is a given. This game hinges on whether Siva can match Appling in the backcourt and if Dieng (with help from his teammates) and contain Green. Dieng is a non-factor on the offensive end, so Siva and company will have to continue to find the scoring from elsewhere.

I'd be shocked if the late game is not a track meet. Marquette and Murray State were up-and-down for 40 minutes while Florida routed two inferior opponents. (The Gators, ironically as a No. 7 seed, are facing a higher-seeded team for the first time this tournament. ) Marquette should have the advantage, but both teams come from power conferences where they had to elevate their games all season. Neither team is particularly deep, so foul trouble could be a major factor. The key is whether the teams can stay poised on a bigger stage, with Florida getting an edge in that category because of Donovan.

Home Court Advantage: There's nothing western about either of these teams, with the teams traveling anywhere from 1,700 to 2,050 miles to get to Phoenix. Michigan State and Louisville traditionally travel well, and Florida might if this was a football game. All kidding aside, this is about a neutral court as you're going to get throughout the four regions.

Predictions: Michigan State is playing too well right now to slip up here, and something tells me that Florida has one more win in them. The Spartans earned the top seed for a reason, and it doesn't look like the Cardinals will have enough to emerge victorious. The Golden Eagles could beat Florida, but they might have to score 80 to do that. Then again, stranger things have happened. In the end, though, MSU and Florida will meet in a rematch of the 2000 national title game (won by the Spartans).

An Upsetting First Weekend — For Some

March 19, 2012 in Preview, Recaps

In one game Friday night, Duke's loss to Lehigh, two things occurred that had never happened before: Duke lost an NCAA Tournament game in Greensboro, N.C., and a No. 2 seed lost twice in the first round of the tournament. (Missouri had already lost to Norfolk State.) But those weren't he only top-four seeds to not advance to the Sweet 16: Michigan, the fourth seed in the Midwest Region, lost to Ohio University and Georgetown, the No. 3 seed in that very same Midwest Region, lost to N.C. State on Sunday. Florida State also lost to Cincinnati, although that wasn't as big of an upset. Those games (and others) led to three teams seeded 10 or higher making it to the Sweet 16: Ohio, N.C. State and Xavier.

Otherwise, believe it or not, the seedings pretty much held. And, despite so many calls for their collapse, Syracuse's nine-point victory over UNC-Asheville (in front of an anti-Orange crowd in Pittsburgh) was not the narrowest margin of victory by a No. 1 seed all weekend. That dubious distinction belongs to Michigan State, who beat the St. Louis University Billikens by just four.

So here are your Sweet 16 match-ups:

Thursday/Saturday

East: No. 1 Syracuse Orange vs. No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers, 7:15 p.m. (CBS); No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats, 9:45 p.m. (CBS)

This region boils down to two Big Ten vs. Big East match-ups. Syracuse-Wisconsin will be entertaining on numerous levels. One, without Fab Melo, it's entirely possible Syracuse is actually rebounding better than they did with him during the regular season and, two, Rakeem Christmas has played pretty well as a freshman starting in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, so this will be a battle of Wisconsin's man-to-man defense vs. Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone. The OSU-Cincy game will be more of the same. Both teams have good big men and both can score in spurts. Cincy was one of the teams to beat Syracuse this season, so they've got the pedigree to win big games.

Midwest: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 13 Ohio Bobcats, 7:47 p.m. (TBS) ; No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks No. 11 N.C. State Wolfpack, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

Both games involve top seeds against teams who upset top seeds. North Carolina should be able to stop Ohio's roll, while Kansas — who escaped their round-of-32 game against Purdue — might have more troubles with the Wolfpack. Like the East, this could yield a interconference regional final and, in this case, one that comes out of the Tar Heel State.

Friday/Sunday

South (Atlanta): No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers, 9:45 p.m. (CBS); No. 3 Baylor Bears vs. No. 10 Xavier Musketeers, 7:15 p.m. (CBS)

Kentucky gets a crack at the only non-conference team to beat them this season. And Indiana just beat a VCU team that still had some magic leftover from last season's run to the Final Four. If Kentucky plays the way it did this past weekend, things could get out of hand quickly, but the Hoosiers are no pushover, and money says that this one stays close throughout. Xavier and Baylor might be another high-scoring affair, but Butler clearly has the better pedigree here.

West (Phoenix): No. 1 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals, 7:47 p.m. (TBS); No. 7 Florida Gators vs. No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

This is a doozy of a region. The Michigan State-Louisville game is going to be a slow, methodical defensive battle with lots of physicality and plenty of rebounding. The Spartans have the edge because Louisville has no match for Draymond Green. In fact, the Cardinals' center, Gorgui Dieng, is pretty good on defense but he's no threat on offense. During the Syracuse-Louisville game in Kentucky earlier this year, the Orange purposely stopped guarding Dieng, who continued to miss wide-open shots. Don't think Tom Izzo won't look at that game tape. The Gators-Golden Eagles game will be an up-and-down score-fest. (Those who watched the Marquette-Murray State game will understand.)

Look for a more in-depth preview of each game later this week.

Footnote: Of the three Final Four teams from 2011, only Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 in this year's tournament. UConn. lost in the first round, VCU in the second and Butler plays Penn tonight in the College Basketball Invitational, which pretty much amounts to the Toilet Bowl of postseason hoops.

West Region Preview

March 14, 2012 in Preview

Top Four Seeds: Michigan State, Missouri, Marquette, Louisville
Sleepers: Memphis, Murray State, New Mexico
Best players: Draymond Green (Michigan State), Drew Gordon (New Mexico), Peyton Siva (Louisville), Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette)
Best coaches: Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Rick Pitino (Louisville), Frank Haith (Missouri)
Best nickname: St. Louis University Billikens

Overview: This region is loaded with talent and hot teams. Michigan State, although they lost guard Branden Dawson, is still a machine — having defeated Ohio State in the Big 10 Tournament final. Missouri won the Big 12 title and is playing as well as any team in the country. Louisville has been up and down, but managed to make it through the Big East Tournament gauntlet with a victory, and Marquette — although they didn't even make it to that conference's tournament final, is still a tournament force (just ask Syracuse last season). And let's not forget Murray State, who was 30-1 in the regular season.

Predicted Final Four Representative: Missouri

Call this a gut feeling, but the Tigers will be the Big 12's representative in the Final Four — and might give Kentucky a huge scare when they get there. They're balanced, can score, and grew up as the season progressed.

Big East Championship Game: Why UConn Will Win

March 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

I know I'm suggesting the impossible, but I believe the UConn Huskies will knock off Louisville tonight and win the Big East Title. Yes, I know no team has ever won the 5 games in 5 days, to win the Big East crown, but the Huskies have the talent to do so. Here are their keys to the game and why they will end up victorious in the Garden tonight.

1. 'Dance with the girl who brung ya':

For the Huskies that 'girl' is there star point guard Kemba Walker. Walker who carried this team on his back for the majority of the season, has been spectacular thus far in the Big East Tournament. He's shown an improvement from his regular season numbers across the board during this tournament. And that includes three games against ranked opponents. He has missed just 6 of his 45 free throws and has never had less than 24 points in a game. Walker's game with only '24' came against top seeded Pittsburgh, a game in which Walker's 23 and 24 points won the game on a final second shot. The Huskies need to run their offense through Walker and let his natural talent and leadership ability take over. Walker is an NBA talent and shows pretty advanced court awareness. Coach Calhoun needs to just put the ball in his star's hands and let him go to work.

2. Secondary Talent Needs To Come Up Big:

While Walker does the heavy lifting and is the guy who's hands you want the ball in for a final second shot, the Huskies will need their secondary players to step up to win this game. F-C Alex Oriakhi, G-F Jeremy Lamb, and G Shabazz Napier are the three players who need to really pick up where Walker leaves off. Much of Louisville's defense is likely to focus on Walker, so the other three need to feed off of that and take advantage of their opportunities. The best part about the trio is they compliment each other so well. Oriakhi does the dirty work underneath the basket. He controls the glass and is a good interior option. Lamb has the quickness of a guard, but he is long enough to cover most SF's in college basketball, and helps out a fair bit on the glass. Napier on the other hand is an extremely fast guard, that the Huskies can run their offense through. While he is still raw, his quickness makes him deadly in transition and his ability from behind the arc makes him a threat to score from anywhere.

Conclusion and Prediction:

While I like Louisville and think they are an extremely talented team, I don't think they have an answer for Walker. And if they can't shut down Walker, they have no chance as UConn's other starters have all become solid offensive weapons. They still need Walker to take the pressure off of them, but they have the talent where if Louisville gets caught paying too much attention on Walker, they will make them pay. It's an improbable run of 5 games in 5 days, the last 4 of which will come against ranked teams, but I think the Huskies will do it.

Huskies win 77-74