Final Four has many subplots
By RICHARD ZUSSMAN, QMI Agency
|Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino is surrounded by his team and cameras after defeating the Florida Gators in the NCAA men's West Regional basketball tournament in Phoenix, Arizona March 24, 2012. (REUTERS/Paul Connors)
QMI basketball writer Richard Zussman analyzes Saturday's Final Four NCAA basketball games in New Orleans:
GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN
Both national semifinals are rematches of games played earlier this season. The battle of Kentucky took place for the first time on Dec. 31, with the ‘Cats winning in Lexington 69-62. The New Year’s Eve game was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s coming out party. The freshman scored 24 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in the UK win. But these teams are much different now then they were then. Louisville is playing more aggressive defence and forcing opponents into longer possessions. UK has figured out the offence, especially how Terrence Jones fits in not just as a scorer.
Kansas came out on top at home on Dec. 10, beating Ohio State 76-67 in the first matchup between these teams. But Jared Sullinger missed the game with back spasms and that’s a big ‘butt.’ Sullinger has slimmed down this season without losing his posterior, which his mother has said is crucial to his basketball game. KU’s point guard Tyshawn Taylor turned the ball over six times in December, he won’t get away with Aaron Craft picking his pocket this time around.
New Orleans will be full of pro scouts this weekend. If you want to wear your scout’s cap pay attention to the matchup between Thomas Robinson and Sullinger. The two big bodies will both be chosen in the top 10 of this year’s NBA draft. They both have a variety of moves under the net and when facing up to shoot. Kentucky will also have a whole host of scouts following them. If Anthony Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist continue their dominant play, don’t be surprised to see the ‘Cats kids go 1-2 in the draft.
BEATING THE ODDS
According to Bodog the No. 1-ranked ‘Cats are 8.5 point favourites over the Cardinals. Ohio State is favoured over Kansas, but by a hair. The Jayhawks are 2.5 point underdogs. There are some interesting prop bets out there as well. If you want to take the Cardinals to win by 21, you will get paid out at 60 to 1. If Kentucky wins in a 21 point blowout or more it pays out at just 9/2. If you like tight games, an OSU win by 1 or 2 points pays 8/1.
There will be a lot of shots altered in New Orleans this weekend. There are three super swatters remaining who will be anxiously waiting, limbs a swinging in the lane. Kentucky super freshman Davis has 18 blocks in four games so far this tournament. The 6-foot-10 centre racked up six blocks last week against Baylor. On the other end of the floor will be Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng. The Senegalese sophomore came to prominence in the Cardinals’ upset win over Michigan State blocking seven shots and snagging nine rebounds. It’s hard to miss Jeff Withey. The 7-foot Kansas centre has led the tournament with 20 blocked shots. Withey was dominant against NC State, rejecting the Wolfpack 10 times in one game.
The Louisville-Kentucky battle runs much deeper than just on the campuses of the respective schools. The semifinal match has the state capital divided. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is a UK grad and a rabid Wildcats fan. His lieutenant-governor is Jerry Abramson, the former mayor of Louisville and an avid Cardinals fan. The rivalry has also gone to a much stranger level. On Tuesday a fist fight broke out at a Kentucky dialysis clinic. According to WYMT.com the fight started when two fans, one cheering for Kentucky the other for Louisville, started arguing about who would win on Saturday. Apparently no charges will be filed.
Twenty-five years ago Rick Pitino was coaching in the Final Four in New Orleans. Fast forward to this weekend and Pitino is back in the same town looking for his second national title. In the last quarter century he has been in 5 Final Fours, for three different teams and became just the second coach in history to appear on college basketball’s last weekend in four different decades.