By Brandon Pemberton
Well, one of the biggest sporting events in the world is now down to the Final Four teams, after beginning with 68. As I sat at work and thought about it, we will watch four great teams from the top 4 power conferences in college hoops: Louisville (Big East), Kentucky (SEC), Kansas (Big 12), and Ohio State (Big Ten). While in the past few years, we have seen some small schools make deep runs in the tourney, this year there weren’t as many upsets. Honestly, I could see any of these four teams winning it all. In college hoops, you only have to be the best team on that day, contrary to the NBA where it’s a seven-game series and the best team most likely finds a way to win.
I will preview each matchup and give my prediction, including the title game as well. Be sure to listen to Sports Trap Radio on Saturdays from 10am-2pm as Chris Marshall and I give you four hours of sports radio in the rawest form. ueradiolive.com Call in 267-519-1111
Robinson (L) & Sullinger (R)
2 Kansas (31-6) vs 2 Ohio State (31-7)
I’m really looking forward to this match-up. There’s plenty of talent that will be on display, especially in the paint. Naismith Player of the Year candidate and future top five NBA draft pick Thomas Robinson will face off against the Buckeyes’ Jared Sullinger, who isn’t a slouch his damn self.
Kansas: The Jayhawks have a starting guard tandem of Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson and they are both explosive going to the rim, and they have the ability to hit the outside shot. They are also great one-on-one defenders and expect Taylor to defend OSU’s Aaron Craft and Johnson to check William Buford. Travis Releford, who is a good role player and a defensive specialist as well, should see some time checking Buford as well. His 6’6′ frame could give him more problems than the 6’4′ Johnson. Connor Teahan is a deadly spot up shooter who if left open can get hot. Tyshawn Taylor played his best game of the NCAA Tourney against UNC in the Elite 8 game and he will need a similar performance in order for Kansas to advance to the title game.
Ohio State: Aaron Craft is the heart and sole of this Buckeye team, even as a sophomore. He might not be the most talented player on the roster, but he is the leader. Arguably the best perimeter defender in college hoops, Craft sets the tone for his team with hard-nosed play on both ends of the floor. William Buford at times can look like a sure lottery pick with his smooth stroke on his outside shot and ability to score from the mid range as well. He will be the wildcard as always for Ohio St. The better he plays, the better chance the Buckeyes have of winning. Lenzelle Smith Jr. was big against Syracuse and is a streaky shooter and plays a solid role for OSU. Shannon Scott spells Aaron Craft at the point if he needs a break or gets in foul trouble.
Kansas: Thomas Robinson is a flat out stud, there’s no denying that. He’s a legit candidate to win the player of the year award and a sure fire top 5 NBA pick. He is a freak athlete, monster on the boards, and defends with the best of them. He could give Sullinger problems on both ends of the court. Jeff Withey is a defensive game changer with his shot blocking and shot changing ability and he is good on the boards as well. Kevin Young is a rarely used freshman who will see key minutes if Robinson or Withey happen to get in foul trouble.
Ohio State: Forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshuan Thomas have been doing teams dirty in and outside of the paint. Against Syracuse, Thomas was key playing at the foul line of the 2-3 zone of the Orange. He was able to make the mid-range shot or make the right pass out for open threes or to Sullinger in the paint. Sullinger had his way down low after spending much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble. Sullinger has had problems with fouls in the past, but Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel have given Thad Matta solid minutes when called upon.
My Prediction: I really thought Kansas played its best game of the tourney and season against UNC last weekend, but the Tarheels were without Kendall Marshall and weren’t the same team. Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson must have big games in order for the Jayhawks to win. If Robinson or Withey gets into any sort of foul trouble, Kansas will be in trouble.
Ohio St. is great defensively, takes great care of the ball, and is getting points in the paint and from the outside. Aaron Craft is that classic college point guard, similar to Mateen Cleaves in 2001, who can lead his team to the title. As I’ve said in the past, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas will be the key to victory for the Buckeyes. Jared Sullinger will draw plenty of attention and that will leave plenty of room for Buford and Thomas to operate.
OSU 68 Kansas 66
Siva (L) & Davis (R)
4 Louisville (30-9) vs. 1 Kentucky (36-2)
Talk about rivalry!!!! This in-state battle of the titans should be epic! We have the future Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino and his Big East Champion Cardinal team, vs John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats, loaded with at least six future NBA players. This rivalry is so deep that two men in the hospital hooked to dialysis machines got into a fist-fight over the game. But seriously, Kentucky is the big favorite, as Vegas has them a 9-point favorite. This is college basketball though, the Wildcats have more talent overall, but all it takes is some foul trouble, turnovers, and then anything is possible.
Louisville: Louisville is led by point guard Peyton Siva offensively. At times he can be reckless and careless with the basketball, and other times he plays lights out. He has been in foul trouble the last two games of the tourney and he cannot afford to be sitting on the bench against the Wildcats. Chris and Russ Smith, along with Kyle Kuric are all experienced players and have the ability to make 3-point shots in big spots. Expect to see Kuric draw the tough assignment of checking Kidd-Gilchrist throughout the game. The guards are going to have to make outside shots and take care of the ball in order to get the win. You don’t want to deal with Kentucky in the open court.
Kentucky: The play of point guard Marquis Teague has gotten better since the beginning of the season. Kentucky really needs him to run the team, get players in the proper places, and not turn the ball over. He is at his best when he’s getting in the lane and creating for others. Doron Lamb is one of the most underrated players in college basketball. He’s shooting a blistering 47% from behind the three point line and is clearly the team’s best outside shooter. His high basketball IQ allows him to find open spots on the court to get shots off and he is crafty going to the hole, using the floater to score over the bigs in the paint. Darius Miller, a holdover from the Billy Gillespie regime, brings senior leadership, shooting and defensive versatility to the table. At 6’7′ he’s able to guard multiple positions on the wing and in the paint.
Louisville: The Cardinals are young but talented up in their frontcourt, as Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan have played big in the tourney. Dieng, who’s just a sophomore, is active on both the offensive and defensive boards, and is a great shot blocker and changer. Behanan at only 6’6′ carves out space in the post and has a variety of moves he uses to score over taller defenders. He also has the ability to put it on the floor and go by bigger and slower defenders as well. Jared Swopshire comes off the bench and gives Dieng and Behanan some rest when needed.
Kentucky: The Wildcats sport three first round draft picks on their frontline: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Terrence Jones. Davis is the surefire top pick in the draft, Naismith Award winner and Defensive player of the year. His ability to control the game defensively is the best I’ve seen in the college game since Alonzo Mourning. He has Kevin Garnett-type potential at the next level and his offensive versatility is pretty damn good as well.
Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the most unselfish top-flight basketball players I’ve seen in my 25 years of watching. He’s put his ego to the side and put the team first and he is the glue guy for Kentucky. He’s their best perimeter defender, pounds the offensive glass, and takes it to the hole and finishes with the best of them. He scored 24 points and grabbed 19 rebounds against Louisville earlier this season. Terrence Jones is the classic stretch four, nice outside jump shot and has the ability to score inside off of lobs and putbacks. Kyle Wiltjer is a spot up shooter who’s job is to stretch the defense and force teams out of the zone.
My Prediction: Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has been playing mind games all week when speaking to the media, trying to put all the pressure on the favorite Kentucky Wildcats. Best believe Pitino will have a game plan designed to slow down Kentucky, it’s just going to be up to his players to execute. Peyton Siva must value the ball, get in the paint and kick it out for open threes and get looks for Behanan and Dieng in order for the Cardinals to have a shot.
If Kentucky plays it’s best basketball, Louisville has no shot of winning this game. Kentucky is one of the best defensive teams in the country and the fact that Calipari can get the top players in the country to come there and actually buy in, defend and play team ball is amazing. The only weakness I see in this team is their depth, if they get in foul trouble it could change the tide of the game. At times Davis has gotten in foul trouble during the season and they are a totally different team without him in the game. But this is Kentucky’s year to get to the title game.
Kentucky 70 Louisville 59
I will release my Championship Game preview and prediction on Sunday via brandononsports.com, hiphopsince1987.com and warroomsports.com as well.
Brandon Pemberton of Sports Trap Radio, for War Room Sports