By Josh Kramer
I have avoided it for the past few weeks. I know it is a bad idea. And when my bracket completely unraveled on the first Friday of the tournament by around 11PM, my desire to provide round by round predictions faded (thanks to Norfolk State and Lehigh largely). But this the Final Four. There is no bigger story in sports. Plus, this year lacks a Cinderella and features two rematches of powerhouse programs. Here are my predictions as the attention of an entire nation heads to Nawlins (New Orleans).
Louisville vs Kentucky
The Skinny: Round two in 2012 of one of College Basketball’s best rivalries. There has probably never been a bigger sporting spectacle in the illustrious history of the Bluegrass State. Come 9PM on Saturday, let’s hope that all cities in the state of Kentucky are still standing. This is the 3rd straight year that the Big East Champion has made it to the Final Four. Coincidentally, Calipari’s past two Kentucky teams have both seen the same fate in March: losses to the Big East Tournament Champion in the NCAA Tournament (West Virginia 2010, Connecticut 2011). The third time will be the charm for the Wildcats though. In my lifetime, I do not think there has ever been more of a heavy favorite heading into the Final Four. This includes the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (who oddly enough lost) and the 2007 Florida Gators. Kentucky is the best team College Basketball has seen in the past 15 years. They have no noticeable weaknesses and are currently playing their best basketball.
Interesting Stats: Calipari is 8 and 8 career versus John Calipari (11 and 11 if you include NBA days) Though it should be noted that Calipari is a career 0 and 4 versus Pitino in postseason matchups. Lastly, Calipari and Pitino are the only college basketball coaches ever to take three different programs to the Final Four.
Prediction: Kentucky 80 Louisville 67
Reasoning: Pitino has put together one of the best coaching jobs of his career in getting this Louisville team to the Final Four. Outside of Tom Izzo, who Pitino’s team oddly enough beat in this tournament, there is no coach that comes to mind who has done a better job this year. The fact of the matter is Kentucky is better than Louisville at every position except maybe at point guard (Siva and Teague are almost even). In addition, Kentucky can perform better than Louisville in every facet of the game. They also feature the very likely top two picks in June’s draft in their lineup (Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), Typically with rivalries, the numbers get tossed out the window. Not this time. Calipari is out for blood against Pitino. In addition, Calipari has a team that is far superior from a talent standpoint than any team remaining in the field. There will be no slip ups on Saturday as Big Blue Nation marches on to their first National Championship Game since 1998.
Kansas vs Ohio State
The Skinny: Two number two seeds exited the tournament during the 2nd round. The other two number two seeds happen to playing in this game. Though this is not a major rivalry, this is the far better matchup of the night. Thomas Robinson versus Jared Sullinger? Could you seriously have scripted a better matchup in the paint? These are two outstanding teams with major followings. In their meeting back on December 10th, the Jayhawks got the best of the Buckeyes at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Thomas Robinson had a big-time game. Many forget that Jared Sullinger did not dress for this game. Due to the lack of Sullinger, I commended the Buckeye effort and called it a “Moral Victory” for Ohio State. Sullinger has been in the zone as of late, and will make this Saturday’s contest far different from the game played in December.
Interesting Stat: Aaron Kraft has averaged 3.25 steals per game during the course of the tournament. This cannot possibly get turnover-prone Tyshawn Taylor excited. In addition, both Bill Self and Thad Matta are making their second trip to the Final Four as coaches.
Prediction: Ohio State 72 Kansas 69
Reasoning: Sullinger and Thomas Robinson in essence cancel each other out. In addition, Aaron Kraft will likely put the glove on Tyshawn Taylor with his phenomenal on the ball defense. I have heard people compare Kraft’s defense to that of the real “Glove,” Gary Payton. These are not far-fetched comparisons. And sure Kansas has Jeff Withey in the paint, but he has never been much of a scoring threat to begin with. Ohio State on the other hand has the ultimate scoring machine in Deshaun Thomas. Thomas has averaged nearly 22 points a game and has been the “X-Factor” for the Buckeyes during this tournament run. Sprinkle in a little clutch play from William Buford who is due for a big game, and Ohio State’s depth will prove too much for the Jayhawks.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.