Final Four Preview

Sat, 04/05/2008 - 7:00am

By Adi Joseph

I’m glad it came down to this.

Maybe I am in the minority, but I am happy Davidson didn’t beat Kansas. I was rooting for UCLA to come back against Texas A&M.

Nothing pleases me more than the guarantee that the best team in college basketball will be selected from the four best teams in college basketball. Cinderellas are great and all – for two weekends. After that, it’s time to define a champion, and, in doing so, define a season.

Now we have the four best teams with the four best résumés competing to figure out who is actually the best team. Doesn’t that just make sense? In 10 years, you’ll realize that it would have been a lot cooler to see the Patriots go undefeated than knowing that the best team didn’t win the Super Bowl (Giants fans excluded).

Each of these four teams is special.

Each is unique.

And each, unquestionably, would make a worthy champion.

Let’s look a little deeper…


Record: 35-3

[img_assist|nid=3370|title=Kevin Love - Icon SMI |desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=251]Star: Fr. C Kevin Love (17.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg,

Why they will win: Based purely on roster analysis, it’s tough not to fall in love with the Bruins. They have a great combination of skill and athleticism, and their rotation is well-established and deep.

It all starts with their outstanding starting backcourt of future first-round picks Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook. Both players combine tremendous athleticism with great efficiency and sturdy defense. Westbrook, a sophomore, has blossomed into the best NBA prospect on the team, and Collison is a proven leader who has been here enough to know what to do on this stage.

Then you’ve got the load in the middle, Love. He’s being called the next Wes Unseld for a reason: the guy is amazing. He’s powerful with good post moves and great rebounding. And he’s starting to learn to play defense, which is just scary.

The supporting cast is strong too. Forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has as much Final Four experience as anyone left in college basketball these days, and even though he hasn’t developed much offensively, Mbah a Moute remains a lock-down defender. Josh Shipp also has valuable experience and even though he has slumped, his smoothness on both ends of the court could prove crucial. Lorenzo Mata, Alfred Aboya and James Keefe provide good frontcourt depth.

The icing on the cake is that coach Ben Howland might be the best in the business, and both he and most of the Bruins have Final Four experience. And there’s the fact that I picked the Bruins to win it all in the preseason – actually I’m not sure what that means.

Why they won’t win: The backcourt is thin. REALLY thin. When Westbrook or Collison goes out, Howland has essentially no choice but to slide Shipp up to a guard spot, which isn’t a bad answer. But any sort of injury or foul trouble in the backcourt could really hurt the Bruins.

It also hurts that Shipp’s slumping has left the Bruins with only three (Westbrook, Collison and Love) legitimate offensive stars. Still, those are three pretty good players to have.


Record: 37-1

[img_assist|nid=3371|title=Chris Douglas-Roberts - Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=452]Star: Jr. G Chris Douglas-Roberts (17.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 54.5 fg%))

Why they will win: No remaining team is more athletic or deeper than the Tigers. No team plays with the kind of swagger that these guys do. None are more fun to watch, and none seem to enjoy the game quite like coach John Calipari’s squad.

Simply put, this is how basketball is supposed to be played.

Add in the incredible amount of talent on this squad, starting with future top-2 pick freshman point guard Derrick Rose, hands-down the best pro prospect remaining, and it’s tough to argue that Memphis deserves their “underdog” status.

They may not be the classic example of what wins an NCAA Championship. But their willingness to attack, especially off the dribble, and the tough path they’ve burned through along the way, make them an appealing choice.

Joey Dorsey, Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart give them a hulking, experienced set of big men, while Douglas-Roberts, Rose, Antonio Anderson, Willie Kemp, Doneal Mack and Andre Allen provide seemingly insurmountable depth. The only team they’ve lost to this season is probably the only team with better depth in the nation this year, Tennessee.

You can talk all you want about their weak schedule and how the NCAA Champion has come from a power conference every single year since 1990 UNLV. But all streaks eventually come to an end. And at some point, logic will always be defied.

And it would be a great thing for basketball if the Tigers won the Championship. The dribble-motion offense is a beautiful thing to watch, and that system as well as the athletic defensive structure that Calipari has formed would potentially spark some great trends in the NCAA.

Why they won’t win: The free throw argument is burnt out and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
In the Tennessee loss, the Tigers were completely out-hustled by the Volunteers. They also relied too heavily on their perimeter shooting. Teams that are willing to give up jump shots to prevent the drive will have success against Memphis. Only Mack is that strong of a shooter.

Then there’s Calipari. Is John Calipari going to finally win a really big game? Does his style of play work on the biggest stage of all? Those questions still haven’t been answered.


Record: 36-2

[img_assist|nid=3372|title=Tyler Hansbrough - Icon SMI |desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=406]Star: Jr. C Tyler Hansbrough (22.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 54.2 fg%)

Why they will win: Rule No. 1: never, ever, ever, ever, ever count out the team with the best player. Anyone that doesn’t think Hansbrough is that guy has gone crazy. He’s been on a season-long tear and deserves all of the accolades he’s received. His strength and determination make him even better in the big games than the little ones, too.

Roy Williams happens to be the only coach in the Final Four with a Championship under his belt. While I believe it’s a stretch to say that Williams is the best coach remaining (Howland deserves that honor), it definitely helps matters to have “been there” before.

The Tar Heels have a nice group of players behind Hansbrough, as well. Wayne Ellington and Danny Green are streaky scorers, and Ty Lawson is an intelligent, super-quick playmaking point guard. Marcus Ginyard is an outstanding defender, as well.

But it really all comes back to Hansbrough. If the Tar Heels win it all, it will be on the back of the big man from Missouri. And if I had to choose anyone’s back to ride to an NCAA Championship, it’d be Psycho T.

Why they won’t win: Other than Hansbrough, none of the players really jump of the paper.
One day, Ellington will look like the next great shooting guard, the next he’s mediocre and overrated. Lawson can look like Chris Paul or Speedy Claxton. Green is so inconsistent it’s outrageous.
Simply put: the Tar Heels rarely get complete team efforts. And while that might have been acceptable against lesser competition, things have stiffened up now.

It’s also worth noting that the Tar Heels beat up on inferior competition for much of the season. And defensively, they are prone to sloppy play and occasional lapses in intensity.

Foul or injury trouble to Hansbrough would doom them. More than anything, that has to be every Tar Heel fan’s greatest fear.


Record: 36-3

[img_assist|nid=3373|title=Mario Chalmers - Icon SMI |desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=450]Star: Jr. G Mario Chalmers (12.7 ppg, 4.4 apg, 47.6 3pt%)

Why they will win: The Jayhawks are the most balanced team in the country. It was genuinely difficult to pick who would represent them as the “star.” No less than five different players could score 20 on any given night for Kansas, that’s how deep they are.

And every one of those guys is fully committed to playing intense, gritty defense. Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush are as good a trio of starting guards defensively as anyone in the country. Each displays great quickness and intensity, along with a simple know-how of the defensive game.

In the front court, Darnel Jackson, Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun provide great diversity for Kansas, and freshman center Cole Aldrich is stepping up slowly as well. All four can, of course, defend, as well as rebound and provide at least some offensive punch.

But perhaps the most crucial Jayhawk is Sherron Collins, the bumble bee who buzzes through defenses like it’s nothing. Collins is the Jayhawks’ sixth man, but he provides them with someone who can penetrate in the clutch and has a penchant for big games. Chalmers has also stepped into that role lately, albeit more with his shooting.

Simply put, the Jayhawks are athletic, talented and extraordinarily balanced. That reminds me of the previous two Florida Gator teams…hmm.

Why they won’t win: Bill Self can’t win the big one. Well, Self has finally made it to the Final Four for the first time in his career. But Self has been seen as the coach that can’t win the big one for years now, and Kansas is gaining that reputation as a program.

The Jayhawks also lack that one player who can take over a game. And at times, they can ride 3-point shooting more than they should.

All that combined with the classic Brandon Rush’s moment of truth that has come to exist in so many big games over the junior’s career, where he chokes in a big situation, and the Jayhawks don’t have the look of a traditional Champion.


I’m sticking with UCLA.

My mind hasn’t swayed since before the season started. The Bruins are the pick to beat Kansas in a slow, grinding finale. Collison will win Most Outstanding Player and Love will boast a double-double. Rush will choke in his last game as a Jayhawk, and both teams will be looted by the NBA

And I’m looking forward to it.

I’m excited for it.

That’s just how it should end.

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