The Final Four is in New Orleans this year and is headlined by four storied programs with elite coaching and future NBA talent. Unlike the last couple of years, not one tournament darling earned a trip to the semifinals.
The No. 1 overall seed Kentucky Wildcats powered their way to the semis, winning their contests by an average of nearly 14 points per game. Led by player of the year candidate Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Wildcats have responded to questions surrounding their inexperience with their superior talent.
John Calipari’s potent offense will be challenged by Louisville’s top-ranked defense in Saturday’s “Bluegrass State” battle.
Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals are on a similar path to last year’s national champions, the Connecticut Huskies. After a mediocre season, the Cardinals won the Big East conference tournament and have ridden that momentum into the Final Four.
The in-state rivals faced each other on New Year’s Eve and the Cardinals stuck with the Wildcats in a hostile road environment before eventually falling 69-62. Louisville’s play at the moment was a mere shadow of the type of play that has them riding an eight-game winning streak. This matchup may be decided by the pace of the game as Louisville will try to keep it a half-court game to help limit Kentucky’s athleticism.
The other Final Four matchup is also a rematch of a high-profile non-conference contest from earlier in the season. Thomas Robinson and the Kansas Jayhawks held home court against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Dec. 10, winning 78-67. The Buckeyes were without their best player Jared Sullinger, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding.
Many NBA scouts will have their eyes on the Robinson-Sullinger matchup, which will likely decide the game between the two No. 2 seeds.
“We’re not going down to New Orleans for a vacation. It’s a business trip,” Sullinger said.
Their Big 12 opponents are all business as well, having defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels to punch their ticket to the Big Easy. Point-guard Tyshawn Taylor broke out of a scoring slump to lead the Jayhawks against the top-seeded Tar Heels.
“This is what you come to Kansas for,” Taylor said. “It’s a great feeling, but it’s just one step.”
The same type of statement could be said from any of the other programs remaining in the field. Having failed to produce any buzzer-beaters or Cinderella-type runs, this year’s tournament may have saved the best for last with a truly elite Final Four.