When the party is in New Orleans, then only the best are in attendance and the Final Four is no different.
Ohio State, Kentucky, Louisville, and Kansas all decided to take spring break this year to the Big Easy. These are four of the best programs in the country and each school filled with a winning tradition and All-Americans.
Let’s take a look at each team and the crew on the bus they rolled with:
The perfect example of proof that not being able to win in basketball at a football school is simply a myth.
Thad Matta has elevated the program to elite status over the last few years, but has yet to win a national championship.
The Buckeyes are led by Jared Sullinger, who has played extremely well as of late. He has a big body combined with balance that allows him to dominate players inside with his positioning.
Aaron Craft runs the point and can be a huge factor on both ends of the floor. The tough-minded Craft motivates the Buckeyes and definitely is the vocal leader.
Don’t sleep on William Buford, because he has the talent to score in bunches and can be unstoppable on the wing.
This is a solid team that will battle for 40 minutes, so Kansas will have to be ready. The combination of inside-out play will be vital in the success of the Buckeyes. If they lack scoring inside with Sullinger then it puts too much pressure on the guards to score, so they struggle.
Ohio State will try to control the glass and push the tempo on occasion. This team has been through the battles and winning a championship was a huge reason Sullinger stayed in school for another year.
Bus members: Greg Paulus, former Duke point guard, is a video coordinator for the Buckeyes staff. Supposedly he can break down film with the best of them and is a future coach to watch for.
When you lose two lottery picks to the draft then you’re not supposed to be better, but that’s hasn’t been the case with Kansas.
The Jayhawks have two guards in Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor who can score, defend, and provide leadership in crucial situations. They play well off of each other and Kansas is at its best when they are attacking. Both players have matured under coach Bill Self and are playing some great basketball at the perfect time.
The man people call T-Rob (Thomas Robinson) is a terror and the definition of a beast in the paint. His jumper is not his forte, but he can knock down shots if left open. Robinson has had a memorable year and can only be described as a flat-out winner. No player in the country carries as much impact on his team like the way T-Rob does.
Jeff Withey is a 7-footer who is a skilled big man and the backbone of the defense. If Withey gets in foul trouble then it could be a short trip to New Orleans for the Jayhawks. This is an older team and potentially the oldest in the Final Four which could provide valuable experience.
Bus members: Kansas’ all-time leading scorer Danny Manning has been on the bench for the Jayhawks as an assistant coach since 2007. He has experience in the Final Four by winning the Most Outstanding Player and a championship in 1988.
The Wildcats are absolutely loaded with NBA talent in the starting five and has studs coming off the bench. The presence of Anthony Davis around the basket is utter dominance and laughable at times. It reminds me of Big Mike in the youth league who is twice the size of everyone and blocks every shot to the point the parents protest. Ironically, Davis is a role player offensively since the offensive is so balanced and unselfish.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a rare all-around player who is a young freshman leader for the Wildcats. Kidd-Gilchrist needs to be aggressive, because he is a nightmare matchup for anyone. His attitude and unselfishness has filtered throughout the team and especially Terrence Jones.
Jones seems to have bought in more this season and play up to his potential. His strength is using his left hand to make crafty baskets inside while also displaying a soft touch outside. If Jones isn’t making an impact then it will be a bad sign for Kentucky.
Doron Lamb and Darius Miller provide the shooting/scoring punch for the Wildcats, and it’s important that they are knocking down shots. Both are seasoned players and extend the floor with deep 3-point range.
John Calipari and Kentucky seem like a perfect match and this may be the best team either has seen. If they play up to their potential, then there is no question Calipari could satisfyingly win his first NCAA championship.
Bus members: Rod Strickland serves as Special Assistant to the Head Coach for the Wildcats. Strickland was a great former NBA point guard who has help in the development of Calipari’s great string of freshman point guards (Rose, Evans, Wall, Knight, and Marquis Teague). Also making the trip is the
Rick Pitino seems to know what he is doing and the players love playing for his tough love style. The team this year has a special connection with Pitino and it showed by winning the Big East Tournament and now making it to the Final Four.
The Cardinals sport a nasty defense that pressures the ball and forces teams into turnovers. The guard play of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have the quickness that create bad passes and open transition layups. Siva controls the offense and is difficult to keep out of the lane. He is an above average passer and can finish in the paint with big men around. The team feeds off his passion and he needs to play better than the first time against Kentucky in December.
Chane Behanon is an underrated freshman who has stepped his game up and been a force inside. Behanon and Gorgui Dieng are the main post players, and they will have a tough task of squaring off with Kentucky’s big guys.
If Louisville can push the tempo and make teams uncomfortable, then they can play with any team in the country. Kyle Kuric is the leading scorer and has to produce early for this defensive-minded team. Pitino will try to continue this magical run and hopefully dress up for it (foreshadowing).
Bus Members: The Homecoming King crowns will be making the trip to NOLA. Kyle Kuric won Homecoming King last year and Peyton Siva followed him up this year. It shows you the high character of this team and the weight that basketball carries in the city and campus of Louisville.
Best Team: Kentucky
The strength and depth of this team is unmatched, and they should be crowned champions unless the Wildcats severely underperform.
Best Player: Thomas Robinson, Kansas
An athletic marvel who can single-handedly take over games.
Most NBA upside: Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Pretty simple choice here and will most likely be the No. 1 pick in this coming NBA Draft.
Best story: Peyton Siva, Louisville
Electrifying point guard who leads his team on and off the floor. This Final Four is not his
Best coach: Bill Self, Kansas
Bill Self and his staff have consistently won Big 12 Championships (eight in a row) along with winning this tournament in 2008. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but that is clearly not in Self’s vocabulary.
Most tradition: Kentucky
Other than UCLA, nobody has won as many championships as Kentucky (7). The fans travel like a circus, and it is the hottest program in the country. Calipari might not be the most popular Kentucky coach ever, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
Best Dressed: Rick Pitino, Louisville
The white suit is a difficult task to pull off, but Pitino has it nailed.
Best Facial Hair: Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Yes, I consider the eyebrows facial hair.
Prediction: Kentucky has the makings of a classic team that will leave its stamp on college basketball for a long time. However, so did Memphis when John Calipari had Derrick Rose and Co. that lost to Kansas.
Well, Kansas will do it again in another huge upset and stun the Kentucky Wildcat nation.
Crazy things happen in March Madness and it has been a while since we have seen a buzzer-beater. So I will one up it and say Tyshawn Taylor goes down in Kansas history as a legend with a fadeaway 3-pointer at the top of the key that barely misses a stretched out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist arm.
Now that is a “go hard or go home” prediction: Kansas 73-71
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