The Final Four kicks off Saturday night. I’ve got to say it feels like months ago that I filled out my ill-fated pool. That thing had no chance. It was like getting DQ’d during the swim of an IronMan triathlon. Thanks for coming. From what I can tell, the interest level in this Final Four is high. We’re getting a good idea of how basketball mad the state of Kentucky is (insane demand for tickets), and there’s also a lot of discussion about Kentucky’s place as one of the great all-time teams. Of course, they will only be considered such if they win the next two games. That’s part of the problem I have with the debate surrounding Kentucky’s greatness. If they were that good, the next two games wouldn’t really matter.
The way I see it, you can either be a great team by winning or you can judge it more on the basis of talent. Kentucky has won to this point, and not only are they talented–they’re young and talented. When someone says this could be the best college basketball team ever, I think they are envisioning what this could be if it stayed together for another year or two. Should they be penalized because players leave early for the NBA? It’s hard to hold that against them, but it definitely forces them to win everything this year.
When I think of great college basketball teams I’ve seen or heard about very few strung together a run of titles (the notable exception being UCLA, which was well before my time). You look at Michael Jordan’s UNC teams, Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown teams, UNLV of the early 90s, they all made multiple Final Fours, won a title, but there were glitches along the way. Does UNLV losing to Duke, or Georgetown losing to Villanova really make them any less great? I’d say just fractionally, but if Georgetown had lost to Villanova in Patrick Ewing’s only year of college basketball, then what? The way college basketball works now, I think it makes it difficult to compare teams. Not only do they not have a chance to mature together, but the rush to the NBA depletes the level of competition.
Is Kentucky’s collection of young talent this year better than Michigan’s Fab Five? They could be, but if they win a title they’ll be assured of that distinction. For me though, I see Michigan losing to two, established, veteran great teams in the Finals. Kentucky will not run into anything like that on their quest. Even at places like Duke, keeping guys together for three or four years is proving to be impossible. So, I have little doubt that this Kentucky team is a truly great collection of talent, but I’m not in any hurry to place them among the all-time great college basketball teams.
Louisville (+8.5) over Kentucky.
This is a pretty epic coaching match-up. You’ve got Pitino, the previous coach at Kentucky, he of the restaurant bathroom scandals and white suits going up against Coach Cal, the man who has vacated a Final Four at two different schools. An impressive feat. Putting that aside, I think Pitino is a pretty respected coach and Calipari has become a bit of legendary recruiter. If Louisville is going to get by Kentucky, you’d have to think a lot of the responsibility with fall with Pitino. They can’t hang in terms of talent. The other issue in this game is the rivalry. Can a rivalry game really keep things close, or do we just remember close rivalry games better and forget the blowouts? I think Calipari mentioned that his players don’t have much invested in the rivalry aspect of the game, and I tend to agree with that. The rivalry is for the fans as much as the players. Kentucky hasn’t really been tested yet during this run, but I think Pitino will have his guys ready for a quick start. If the Wildcats are going to have a hiccup, it could be here, but I think they’ll survive. Coach Cal’s boys to win, but not cover.
Ohio State (-2.5) over Kansas.
This is a total coin-flip for me, and in most cases in that situation I’d take the points. They’re sitting right there, take them. But, I’m going to back to my Big Ten theory. I think that was a solid conference, and that Ohio State is more battle-tested right now than Kansas. Just because Kansas has had close calls, that doesn’t mean they’ve been toughened up. The Jayhawks put up 47 points in the 1st half against UNC, so I imagine there will be some questions about OSU’s ability to score, but they don’t need to score, they just need to play that good defense. It’s a bit like football, when some run and gun team goes and plays Alabama, they don’t say how is the Tide going to score 50? And, even though Roy Williams has long ago left Lawrence behind, I still can’t escape the fact that his stink is still somewhat on this tournament. Let’s exterminate him for good.
Ok, that’s it. Remember we’ve got Phillies mail bag coming sometime on Monday. We’ll address what is becoming a swelling wave of panic. The Phils will be back in town then for their “On-Deck” series. Not much going on this weekend aside from the basketball, so enjoy those games, and maybe catch a little of the golf. Phil is going off again–will he peak a week early two years in a row?