Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Final Four Predictions

The greatest weekend of the year for any college basketball fan is fast approaching and it should prove to be one to remember. For the first time in the history of the NCAA tournament the Final Four is straight chalk. All four number one seeds have proven their worth and will battle in San Antonio for the right to play for the National Championship. So how will the match ups pan out? I could venture a guess…

UCLA vs. Memphis

Coach Ben Howland’s UCLA Bruins are attending their third straight Final Four, but this year’s path has been far from easy. While they remained among the nation’s top squads throughout the year they suffered two tough regular season losses and some might say won a few close ones with some “favorable calls.” Whether or not the refs are in the Bruins corner though, they have something else going for them this year that may finally push them into the championship game… Kevin Love. The freshman sensation could be the final piece that UCLA needs to come out on top.

The Memphis Tigers, however, are anxious to send the Bruins home early. Despite being a #1 seed and actually having held the nation’s top spot during the season, the Tigers have plenty to prove. Often criticized for the fact that they play in the less than stellar Conference USA, many argued they weren’t nearly as good as their record. And most agreed they’d be the first 1 seed to fall thanks to their poor foul shooting. But with the deadly combination of All-American Chris Douglas Roberts, and the freshman scoring machine Derrick Rose the Tigers have blitzed their tournament opponents and look strong and athletic enough to give any team, Conference USA or not, a run for their money.

This game will come down to one question: Will the refs allow them to play the game like it should be played? The Memphis big men will be essential in slowing down Kevin Love and the potent Bruin offense. So can Joey Dorsey be an absolute beast like he was against Mississippi State in the second round? Or will he be forced to the bench for bodying up the Bruins? If the Memphis bigs can manage to stay on the floor, the Tigers have a shot… but if I have to guess, I say the Bruins take a close one. I just hope, like any other true fan, the game is decided by the players and not the refs (but to be fair, this no-call could have gone either way).

UNC vs. Kansas

Coach Roy Williams is facing off against the team he built most of his hall of fame career on, and as Roy would say, it should be a dadgum barn-burner. His Tarheels came into the tournament as the #1 overall seed, and have since been its most dominant team. Player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough and his fellow Heels have absolutely blown through opponents, only being marginally tested by Louisville in the Elite Eight. With their lightning quick point guard Ty Lawson back from injury their potent offense has been pumping, and to make matters worse for their opponents, their often criticized defense has looked dominant as well.

The Jayhawks of Kansas, however, come in with one of the nation’s most balanced squads and are one of only a few that may match up well with Carolina. Having the unfortunate task of facing off with this year’s feel good story in the Elite Eight, the Jayhawks handled the pressure of staving off the Cinderella and escaped Phoenix with a 2-point victory over the Davidson Wildcats. Now they roll into San Antonio as another blue-chip program with another magnificent scorer with the talent to swing any game. If junior guard Brandon Rush can take over, the 'Hawks could easily find themselves in the championship game.

With defensive match-ups that could present problems for each team’s primary scorers, expect the team with the X-factor to come out on top in this one. Kansas center Sasha Kaun is one of the few players in the country who could give Psycho T problems on the inside, if he can keep up with him. While UNC will likely have stalwart defender Marcus Ginyard shadowing the talented Brandon Rush for most of the game. So look for UNC guards Wayne Ellington and Danny Green to step up their game and give the Heels the balance they will need to send the Jayhawks packing. In the end, I think Kansas puts up a fight but Carolina dances on.

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