ATLANTA – Florida, Georgetown, Ohio State and UCLA didn't arrive at this point of the season, just two victories removed from cutting down nets on the Georgia Dome on Monday night, by anything resembling fluke or accident.
And each has an exceptional head coach manning the helm of squads that have won at least 30 games apiece.
But the coaches would also tell you that getting this deep into a season is about the players.
And each has a marvelous starting lineup.
Let's take a look at each of those starters and how one observer – yours truly – rates them:
1. Mike Conley (6-1, Fr, Ohio State)
Frank Says: He has everything a coach could dream of in a playmaker/point guard/floor leader – minus something beyond an average deep jump shot. It's taken awhile but I think most analysts (of the TV, newspaper, Internet and NBA varieties) are finally catching on to the likelihood that he was the very best in the country at his position this season, Acie Law included.
2. Taurean Green (6-0, Jr., Florida)
Frank Says: It's hard to knock his pedigree after leading the Gators to a national championship a year ago, clearly outplaying UCLA's Jordan Farmar (a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers) in the final in Indianapolis. His assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6 to 2.3) isn't exceptional and he's not quite the pressure man-to-man defender that Conley and Darren Collison are. But he's fearless, tough-minded and capable of scoring, via his underrated jump shot or his deceptive quickness on drives, anytime the Gators need a hoop.
3. Darren Collison (6-0, So., UCLA)
Frank Says: There wasn't a quicker player in the country dribbling the ball this season and there isn't anyone who put more pressure on the ball or who jumped into passing lanes as readily, defensively. And his jump shot has improved immensely over a year ago, when he got extensive time behind Farmar and alongside Farmar. But he is capable of getting a bit careless with the ball (he committed seven turnover in the West final against Kansas).
4. Jonathan Wallace (6-1, Jr., Georgetown))
Frank Says: He shares playmaking duties with Jessie Sapp and Jeff Green within the framework of the Hoyas' half-court offense. His jumper at the end of regulation kept the Hoyas' season alive against North Carolina Sunday.
1. Arron Afflalo (6-4, Jr., UCLA)
Frank Says: Most NBA talent evaluators aren't convinced he would be a "definite" first-round choice if he enters the draft (as many expect him to do after being a first-team All-American and the Pacific 10 Conference Player of the Year). But that's moot when it comes to analyzing his on-court performance for the Bruins this season. There is no one who is tougher, more determined or as absolutely fearless when it comes to guarding an opponent's best offensive player or taking a shot with a game's outcome on the line.
2. Lee Humphrey (6-2, Sr., Florida)
Frank Says: There isn't a better "catch and shoot it" threat among the four teams that will take the Georgia Dome floor Saturday evening. He is one of the biggest reasons the Gators were able to make the Bruins pay for doubling the Florida post players a year ago, and the reason why UCLA Coach Ben Howland may have to think twice before doing it so consistently often this time around.
3. Jamar Butler (6-2, Jr., Ohio State)
Frank Says: He was the Buckeyes' playmaker a year ago but is now part of the reason why OSU can surround Greg Oden with so many quality jump shooters. If defenders close out on him too early, he is more than clever, quick and strong enough to get into the lane and finish or pitch to an open teammate.
4. Jessie Sapp (6-3, So., Georgetown)
Frank Says: Again, he and Wallace could swap categories. He's got a nice assist to turnover ratio (3.4 to 1.9) and doesn't deviate from the things John Thompson III wants him to within the framework of the team's half-court offense. He's not a "pure shooter" but does knock in big jump shots.
1. Corey Brewer (6-8, Jr., Florida)
Frank Says: Along with Jeff Green, he is one of the two most versatile players in the Final Four. His defense was magnificent against Arron Afflalo a year ago and he'll need a similar effort this time around against a player who has thought long and hard about that Indianapolis night a year ago when he was 3 of 10 from the field.
2. Ron Lewis (6-4, Sr., Ohio State)
Frank Says: He and Afflalo are the two guys we're most likely to see hit critical jump shots Saturday. He stretches the defense more than anyone (well, with the exception of Lee Humphrey) in the Final Four. He doesn't drive it much but belly up to him and he'll drive and slam. If the Buckeyes win a national title Monday night, the Buckeye Nation has the overtime-creating 3-pointer he hit against Xavier in Round 2 to thank.
3. Josh Shipp (6-6, So., UCLA)
Frank Says: He's not the defender or ball-handler that Cedric Bozeman was for the Bruins at the position last season. But he gives Howland something the Bruins didn't have a year ago: a third jump shooter on the floor at all times. He is also a physical rebounder and drives and finishes better than Bozeman did.
4. DaJuan Summers (6-8, Fr., Georgetown)
Frank Says: Absolutely loaded with "upside" – and he's not too shabby right now. He shoots it, drives it and dunks it. Look for him to have a breakout sophomore season . . . an all-Big East season at the very least.
1. Jeff Green (6-9, Jr., Georgetown)
Frank Says: At least on the offensive end of the floor, he's the best player in the Final Four. His offensive game has the maturity of 10-year NBA veteran. Posting up . . . driving . . . nailing shots from the corner . . . setting up teammates – dang! He is so good!
2. Al Horford (6-9, Jr., Florida)
Frank Says: He and Joakim Noah can play either post position for the Gators, but I'm listing Horford here. He has very reliable hands, there isn't a sturdier player inside the lane and he could be the best defensive rebounder in the field.
3. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (6-7, So., UCLA)
Frank Says: He's the best man-to-man post defender still suiting up for a college team this weekend. He is a big reason the Bruins' traps are so daunting for opponents to deal with. He's very quick to the ball as an offensive rebounder and is an effective "slasher" after one or two dribbles. His jump shot is often an adventure, though.
4. Ivan Harris (6-7, Sr., Ohio State)
Frank Says: He's probably more comfortable on the perimeter, offensively, than in the low post area. And with Greg Oden and Othello Hunter around, Coach Thad Matta can let Harris play to his strengths (as a jump shooter and driver).
1. Joakim Noah (6-11, Jr., Florida)
Frank Says: He gets an ever-so-slight edge over Oden because, a) He's got two years of college experience over him, and, b) he was the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four a year ago. No one plays with more energy. Watch him guard people 25 feet from the bucket – his quickness (at that size) borders on the stunning.
2. Greg Oden (7-0, Fr., Ohio State)
Frank Says: OK, Noah and Oden should be "1-A and 1-B". If Oden stays out of foul trouble this weekend (something he hasn't been able to do in the NCAA Tourney so far), I'll probably be embarrassed as heck late Monday night that I didn't list him in the top slot.
3. Roy Hibbert (7-2, Jr., Georgetown)
Frank Says: Not only is he one of the most improved big men in the country, I find it hard to imagine too many college players of any size or shape making the kind of progress he has since his freshman season. He'll join Jeff Green as an NBA lottery selection in June, if both decide to bypass their final seasons as Hoyas.
4. Lorenzo Mata (6-9, Jr., UCLA)
Frank Says: He is much improved over last season and is a big part of why the Bruins have been overwhelming, at times, defensively. He has a better collection of scoring moves within 12 feet of the bucket than most realize. His free-throwing (38 percent) means he is usually off the floor if the Bruins are protecting a small lead late in a game.
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the