Final Four Preview

by April 03, 2008

By Adam Fleischer

Rarely do we find ourselves with a Final Four comprised completely of teams who have been thinking “national championship or disappointment” since last season came to a close. That’s what we’ve been blessed with for this Saturday. This year’s tournament has had its share of not so exciting games, so we deserve this. Each of these four teams has been considered among the country’s upper echelon (if not the top four) since this year’s Day 1 and we’ll take credit for some of that here at SLAM. Say what you want about the current impurity of college basketball because of the NBA age limit, but all of these number one seeds have key veterans (Hansbrough, Collison, Douglas-Roberts, and Rush, for instance) in addition to their younger talent. With the state of college ball as it is, it’s rare that we see a group of core guys grow together over multiple years, and it’s no coincidence that these squads, each of who can claim rights to such a feat, ended up in San Antonio.

And, in the same vein of the one and done era which is upon us, I wonder the next time that we’ll have a Final Four with this much talent spread throughout the four rosters: three First Team All Americans, two Third Teamers, a bunch of High School All Americans, and a healthy handful of future NBA contributors and stars.

We’ll find out whether or not these factors add up to great games when the night commences at 6:07 with UCLA tipping off against Memphis. Like with all of the remaining teams, there are some questions that plague each of these schools, but there’s a reason that they’re here and have a legit shot at winning it all. My biggest concern with the Bruins is that, since the regular season began winding down, they’ve found themselves in some close games late when they should have been comfortably leading. If this one does end up being tight down the stretch, though, that may work to their advantage as it plays to Memphis’ well publicized but supposedly no longer existent Achilles heel: free throw shooting.

Close games should still scare the Tigers. I don’t care if they’ve been knocking ‘em down from the line through these first four games (67.4% on 93 makes—by far the most made free throws in the tourney). This free throw shooting thing still has time to bite them in the behind. We’ve seen over these last few weeks that they can hit ‘em (Douglas-Roberts and Rose were a combined 21 for 25 in the regional final), but we all know the Tigers were a bunch of Ben Wallaces and Shaqs stepping to the line all year. Calipari promised they would shape up come tourney time, and so far he’s been right. There is always that possibility that it leads to their demise, though.

Enough negatives. On the positive tip, we can talk about a multitude of things, but these team’s point guards are my favorite. Derrick Rose and Darren Collison can each impact the outcome drastically—aiding their team with the ability to control tempo and manage the game. Having a point you trust down the stretch is crucial in tournament games. You can’t want to end up with a possession like Davidson had to end the game against Kansas. Curry is phenomenal, Richards’ game is nothing to scoff at, and Kansas played great D, but you can’t have the final possession with the game on the line look like that—and I don’t think Rose or Collison would. And let’s not forget about Russell Westbrook, either, cause that young man also has sick abilities. I don’t think Memphis’ length and athleticism present too much of a match up problem for the Bruins, who have talent to counter. Give me a Joey Dorsey on Kevin Love match up and I certainly won’t complain.

Game 2 features two teams that arguably boast even more depth than UCLA and Memphis. Kansas and UNC usually go seven and eight deep, respectively, and have guys coming off the bench that could be starting most places. Plus, as is the case with all of these teams, there is experience to go along with that depth. That experience and depth should balance out and it’ll come down to coaching and execution. Roy Williams would hate to lose this one.

Kansas has held opponents to 61, 56, 57 and 57 in their four games of the tournament, while UNC has won each of its contests by double digits behind some ridiculous offensive showings. Should be interesting to see the tempo of this game, because the Jayhawks can no doubt score, but an up and down sort of game would most likely play into Carolina’s hands. Probably the main reason that a running game helps that Tar Heels is because of Ty Lawson. Anyone who has watched him is well aware, but this kid’s quickness is off the charts. The Lawson-Hansbrough connection has been deadly all season, and especially so since Lawson returned from injury in early March. Danny Green’s play can’t go unnoticed either, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out there to go toe to toe with Brandon Rush if the junior is presenting match up problems for the Heels. Although certain aspects of their defense can be questioned, Carolina looks like the team with the fewest weaknesses of the four.

Bill Self’s guys aren’t far behind, though. I love that Kansas has guys who all play as equals, exemplified in the fact that anyone can pick up the slack on a give night. Sasha Kaun showed us this in the Elite Eight, and it’s a great luxury to have—knowing that any of a handful of guys can step up on a given night. With that being said, I’m forced to wonder what would happen if on Saturday night the tables are from what they were when the Jayhawks took on Davidson. Who is gonna take that last shot? Will everyone want to step up, cause many guys seem to have that capability? Or will they be unsure of what shot they’re looking to get?

To be honest, I hope that Kansas faces this problem, cause that would mean that the game was down to the wire and these two number one seeds probably gave us what we wanted. Believe me, I loved watching Stephen Curry’s domination as much as the next guy. I would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing Beasley bully his way to the Final Four. If Pitt were able to keep their late season run going, I would have been watching the whole way through. What we have on Saturday, though, gives us the best possible match ups. Everyone still around expected to be here last year, last month, and last week, and plans to be the only team left standing come Monday night. They have played like it all season. March Madness may be about upsets and Cinderella’s to a point, but, at the end of the day, we should be glad that we get to see the best four teams duking it out. It’s just too bad that we couldn’t stage a double elimination round robin with these final four.

Front page image courtesy of Streeter Lecka, Getty Images