Final Four: Will Kentucky and Kansas emerge victorious? (+video)
The NCAA Final Four takes place Saturday evening in New Orleans. Louisville plays Kentucky, followed by Kansas and Ohio State. Kentucky and Kansas are favored to win. Both Final Four games will be televised by CBS.
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Predicting the outcome in a game like this can be deceiving – particularly when both Ohio State and Kansas benefited from facing depleted squads in the last round, and both match up so well offensively and defensively. But on the basis of starting lineups, Kansas would have to hold a slight advantage.Skip to next paragraph
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Kentucky vs. Louisville
Kentucky, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, had an easy time on Saturday with third-seeded Baylor, defeating them 82-70 in the South region final in Atlanta. The final score in no way reflected the pace and precision of Kentucky’s ceaseless barrage, with the Wildcats (35-2) leading the Bears by in excess of 20 points through most of the game. Baylor (30-8) started off with a quick 10 points at the onset of the first half and proceeded to go on a scoring drought that would make a month in the Sahara seem positively temperate by comparison. During that time, the Wildcats were merciless with their three-point shots, hitting just about everything they threw at the net. They also drove down the lane with all the resistance of a warm knife through butter. It was really no contest from the first five minutes on.
For its part, Louisville continued its winning ways, with the Cardinals shunning their highly effective zone defense to directly take on Florida in man-to-man coverage, and in the process kept the Gators off-balance from the perimeter, resulting in a 72-68 win in the West regional final last Saturday in Phoenix. Louisville rolled to its eighth victory in a row and Cardinals’ head coach Rick Pitino, who's mentored Florida coach Billy Donovan since the 1980s – first at Providence College and later Kentucky, where Donovan was Pitino’s assistant – got his 7th win over his protégé, against no losses. Florida’s high-powered offense, which scored nearly 80 points per game through the season, was stymied by Louisville’s fly paper defense, which held the Gators uncharacteristically at bay while the Cardinals outscored them by 15 points over the game’s final 10 minutes. The defensive about-face by Louisville surprised Florida, and in the end, Pitino, the wily teacher, once again schooled his adept and highly-accomplished student.
Kentucky vs fourth seed Louisville ( Saturday, 6:09 p.m) will be the equivalent of David versus Goliath – though David, led by Cardinal guard Peyton Siva, may have a slightly bigger slingshot this weekend – and the story lines are luscious. Pitino has coached and had success with both schools, and he is as charismatic and clever as his counterpart, Kentucky’s John Calipari. This will truly be the battle of a great offense against an innovative and versatile defense. Kentucky has great outside shooters, but the real battle will be in the trenches. If Louisville can hold off Kentucky’s offense around the arc, Pitino will likely go to a 2-3 zone defense (led by center Gorgui Dieng) to keep Wildcats center Anthony Davis and strong forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from dominating the scoring inside. Louisville also is very good at a full-court 1-2-1-1 “diamond” or 2-2-1 zone press. If this manages to slow down Kentucky’s offensive pace while staying out of foul trouble, the Cardinals may have something of a chance to advance. However, this is a tall order. Kentucky is so deep at all positions, and Louisville cannot offer a similar boast. Kentucky should move on to the national championship game.