Saturday, March 31, 2012

Final Four Down to Final Two--Ky. and Kansas

At the end of the day, the Final Four will narrow to the Final Two, most likely Kentucky and Kansas. Here's how they'll climb to the championship game.  

Kentucky vs. Louisville:
Can anybody beat Kentucky, which dwarfs all of college basketball with its extraordinary pool of future NBA talent?  The team most likely to beat Kentucky is, without question, Kentucky.

Kentucky is pretty close to invincible, but could lose to hated intrastate rival Louisville. If the Wildcats do fall, they'll probably have only themselves to blame, for playing boneheaded, self-destructive basketball, doing dumb things like getting into foul trouble, committing a flurry of turnovers, missing bad shot after bad shot, making lazy, errant passes, succumbing to big-game jitters. Also, Kentucky could be derailed if its Player of the Year center Anthony Davis has a miserable game.

Louisville, an eight-to-nine-point underdog, is just a long-shot to engineer the upset. They don't have the talent, but they do have an incredible reserve of drive and energy. For forty-minutes they'll attack Kentucky at full-throttle, with relentless defense, hoping to force mistakes and frustrate and wear down the more athletic Wildcats. If Louisville does pull off the upset, you can bet that its 6-11 shot-blocking center and most dangerous weapon, Gorgui Dieng, will be a major factor. So will point guard Peyton Siva, who has to seriously disrupt the Kentucky machine and harass Wildcats' point guard Marquis Teague into playing like a rattled freshman.

Kentucky already beat Louisville once, 69-62, in Lexington on New Year's Eve, using a powerful inside game and a huge rebounding edge to counter the Cardinal's ferocious defense, which held the Wildcats to just 30% shooting and three three-pointers. That may have been Louisville's best game of the season--and it still wasn't good enough.

What makes Kentucky so scary is that it's not just an explosive offensive force, but also a crack defensive team, maybe the nation's best. And its transition game, with those thoroughbreds sprinting up and down the court, is second to none. To have any chance at all, Louisville needs to slow the game way down.
If you're betting, taking Louisville and the eight or nine points is worth a shot. You're gambling that Louisville coach Rick Pitino has savvy enough to keep the game close.


Ohio State vs. Kansas:
It may come down to this--Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft vs. Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor. Can Craft, a deadly defender who can clog an offense all by himself, throw Taylor so far off his game that the Kansas offense never gets out of first gear? On offense, Taylor has been shaky in the tournament, particularly from behind the three-point line. But if Taylor lags, there's another gem in the Kansas backcourt, Elijah Jonhson, who can also handle the ball and fuel the offense.

When these teams played during the season in Kansas, the Jayhawks won, but Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, one of the top two or three players in college ball, couldn't play because of back spasms. So that game is no measuring stick. Sullinger will play today and along with DeShaun Thomas, a superior shooter, form a formidable front line. But can they out-duel and out-board the strong Kansas front line, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey? Not so sure about that.

So far in the tournament Kansas has hardly been a powerhouse, playing just well enough to win. And whipping North Carolina with its main cog, point guard Kendall Marshall, on the shelf, isn't a gold-star achievement. But Kansas has an ace in the hole--coach Bill Self, who's a whiz at making adjustments during a game. He may be able to outsmart Craft and his Buckeyes with clever offensive and defensive schemes.

This is a tough one to call. Though Ohio State is favored by two, this is more like a pick 'em. But banking on  coach Self, that tough front line and Taylor being sharp, give the edge to Kansas.