Burlison: Could it be Better than '93?

Scout.com's college basketball expert, Frank Burlison, who has been to every Final Four since the beginning of time, thinks the one in San Antonio has a chance to rival the Final Four in New Orleans in 1993...

I'm still not ready to jump on that "this is the best Final Four field – ever!" bandwagon just quite yet, although my opinion might be revised a week from now.

 

I'm still partial to 1993, when three No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina) joined a No. 2 (Kansas) in New Orleans and the Tar Heels ultimately prevailed over Michigan (in the second and final "Fab Five" season) in the final.

 

But the semifinal matchups we'll see Saturday night in the Alamodome, with four No. 1 seeds hooking up for the first time ever, should be dandies.

 

Any of the four could prevail in the Monday night final and it wouldn't surprise me be a bit. And I can't remember the last time I could make that statement.

 

When the pairings were released on March 16, I projected a Kansas-UCLA final, with the Bruins prevailing.

 

I guess I shouldn't bail on that forecast yet, even with as overwhelming as North Carolina and (especially last week) Memphis looked at times in the first four rounds.

 

Onward, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, to a look at the Saturday semifinal matchups, with the overall tourney seed of each of the teams:

 

No. 2 Memphis (37-1) vs. No. 3 UCLA (35-3), 6:07 p.m.

Pre-tourney records vs. tourney field: Memphis 8-1, UCLA 14-2.

Common opponents: Michigan State (Memphis won, 92-74; UCLA won, 68-63), Texas (Memphis won, 85-67; UCLA lost, 63-61), USC (Memphis won, 62-58, OT; USC lost, 72-63, and won the next two meetings, 56-46 and 57-54) and Arizona (Memphis won, 76-63, UCLA won twice, 82-60 and 68-66).


Three key individual matchups:

Point guard – Darren Collison or Russell Westbrook vs. Derrick Rose: Can either of these two Bruins' defenders limit Rose's penetration, in half-court settings, and keep him from pushing the ball at break-neck speed in transition?

Wing – Josh Shipp or Westbrook vs. Chris Douglas-Roberts: Will the All-American CDR be able to roam without the ball and slash with it as readily as he has against pretty much every other team the Tigers have played?

Post – Joey Dorsey or Robert Dozier vs. Kevin Love: Can Dorsey avoid foul problems against the Bruins' All-American Love, who is now being employed extensively on the perimeter in "pick and pop" situations? Is the more mobile Dozier better suited to defend Love in those situations?


Keys to game:
1) Offensive pace – who dictates it?; 2) Rose's penetration – can UCLA contain it?; 3) Love's overall dominance – can the Tigers limit it?

Frank Says: It shouldn't take a long time to figure out in which direction the pace of this game is heading. If there are a lot of transition opportunities (for both clubs) in the first 10 minutes, it bodes very well for the Tigers. If both teams are going deep into the shot clock on each possession, UCLA Coach Ben Howland will feel better about his team's chances of staying in town for a Monday night game.

In a Nutshell: Whichever star freshman plays nearest to "his best", his team will win.

 

No. 1 North Carolina (36-2) vs. No. 4 Kansas (35-3), 8:47 p.m.

Pre-tourney records vs. tourney field: North Carolina 9-1, Kansas 8-2.

Common opponents: Davidson (UNC won, 72-68; Kansas won, 59-57), Boston College (UNC won both meetings, 91-69 and 90-80; Kansas won, 85-60) and Georgia Tech (UNC won, 83-82; Kansas won, 71-66).


Three key individual matchups:

Point guard – Tywon Lawson vs. Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins: Lawson appears to be operating at pre-ankle injury speed/efficiency but Jayhawks have a variety of quality defenders to throw at him.

Wing – Marcus Ginyard vs. Brandon Rush: Can Ginyard (or Wayne Ellington or Danny Green) keep Kansas' most explosive perimeter athlete from a breakout performance? Conversely, can the Kansas wings not let Ellington and Green get open for mid- to deep-range jumpers?

Post – Kansas "committee" vs. Tyler Hansbrough: Can Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun do enough to keep the UNC likely John R. Wooden Award winner from a 30-plus points and 15-plus rebounds performance?


Keys to game:
1) UNC's transition game – can Kansas limit the Tar Heels' open-court opportunities?; 2) How well will UNC defend the best, and most balanced, half-court offense it has faced this season?; 3); Can Kansas keep Hansbrough from dominating, emotionally and statistically, this game like he has all in all but a few of his first 38 games?

Frank Says: Barring the unlikely, this game will be played at a considerably faster tempo than the first semifinal. The Tar Heels' jump shooters (Ellington, Green, Lawson and, of late, Hansbrough) seem to be more effective of late than have been their Jayhawks' counterparts, with the exception of Chalmers. Kansas can't win if no one but Chalmers is hitting jumpers.

In a Nutshell: Kansas will win if Hansbrough is held to 25 or fewer points.



 

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 Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.collegehoops.scout.com


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