SAN ANTONIO – With the Final Four field made up for the first time entirely of No. 1 seeds, there was nary a word from anyone disputing that North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA and Kansas are the four best teams in college basketball.
After what took place in front of 43,718 in the Alamodome Saturday night, only the most stubborn of hard-core fans of the Tar Heels and Bruins would try to suggest that the two best teams in the country aren't going to be playing for the national title in the same building Monday night.
Memphis and Kansas put the hammer down, and hard, on a couple of very good teams Saturday night, ending the seasons – and, more likely than not, at least one of the college careers – of two consensus All-Americans in the process, Kevin Love of UCLA and Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina.
Coach Ben Howland's Bruins came into the first semifinal Saturday night with the idea that they had to do as much as possible to cut down the dribble penetration of Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, as well as to somehow hinder the Tigers' ability to get good scoring opportunities in transition.
Even if you didn't witness what transpired in the first 40 minutes played Saturday night, the 15-point margin (78-63) for John Calipari's club is a pretty good clue as to how little (barely any, actually) success the Bruins had in accomplishing those pre-game aspirations.
In five seasons under Howland, the Bruins have come to play some of the most stifling half-court defense in the country.
And junior Darren Collison and sophomore Russell Westbrook came flew into San Antonio Wednesday night with the reputation of being a pair of near-"lockdown" (or words to that effect) backcourt defenders.
With Collison and Westbrook going head up against Rose, the best first-year college point guard since Chris Paul played at Wake Forest four years ago, and Douglas-Roberts, the Conference USA Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American, something had to give, right?
And that it – the Bruins' first line of defense – did.
Some wondered if the lithe (6-foot and 160 pounds) Collison, even for all of his quickness of foot and hand, would be able to keep the 6-3, 205, Rose from dominating play in the same fashion Rose did during the Tigers' dismantling of the Michigan State (92-74) and Texas (85-67) defenses in the South Regional semifinals and final in Houston.
Any skepticism proved founded.
Rose's strength, and his subtle and no-to-so subtle abilities to accelerate and slow down on the dribble, enabled to create driving angles on Collison that he exploited constantly.
Westbrook, with the same dimensions and maybe even a little more upper-body strength than possessed by Rose, did a better job of keeping the soon-to-be first or second pick in the NBA Draft in front of him.
But Rose (25 points and four assists and just one turnover) made plays against the defense of Westbrook as well. And once he got his hands on the ball in transition (after defensive rebounds or turnovers), no one could keep him from delivering the ball where he wanted.
And Westbrook (who powered his way for 22 points on a night when every other Bruin was more or less contained by the Tigers) couldn't do much against Douglas-Roberts (28 points), who had his way pretty much anytime he was checked by Collison, Josh Shipp or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, as well.
Memphis' frontcourt also clearly outplayed its UCLA counterpart, with Joey Dorsey, who grabbed 15 rebounds and, along with help Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggert, kept Kevin Love (12 points on just four of 11 from the field, along with nine rebounds) from being as dominant as he was while earning Pac 10 Player of the Year and then earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the West Regional in Phoenix.
And, remarkably enough, Kansas was even more impressive than were the Tigers while knocking out No. 1 overall seed North Carolina in the back end of the Alamodome double dip.
Well, at least that was the case over the first 15 minutes, when the Jayhawks burst out to a stunning 28-point advantage (40-12), and over the final 5 ½ minutes, when they outscored the Tar Heels by 13 points (20-7) to pull away with a flurry of dunks and layups against UNC's attempts and trapping them.
So Kansas knocked off the team led by the man (Roy Williams) who coached the Jayhawks for 15 years and who could have imagined that Midwest Regional championship could have pulled it off in such convincing (84-66) fashion?
The Tar Heels did have a whopper of a rally in getting to within four points with about 11 minutes to play.
But, that run aside, they were thoroughly outplayed, in transition and in half-court settings, by the Jayhawks, who got the kind of performance from junior Brandon Rush (25 points and seven rebounds) that the Tigers got from Douglas-Roberts a few hours earlier.
Are we going to see Douglas-Roberts vs. Rush Monday?
Let's hope so.
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