We have the Final Four that many people wanted to see. For the first time since the seedings began in 1979, all four #1 seeds have made it through. North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA, and Memphis were clearly the best four teams in the country all year long. The lowest any of these teams was ranked at any time was 8th (Kansas). Their eight combined losses is the least amount combined for any Final Four in history. You’ve got three first-team All-Americans (UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough, UCLA’s Kevin Love, Memphis’ Chris Douglas-Roberts), two of the three best Freshman in the country (Love, Memphis’s Derrick Rose), and the best defensive backcourt in the nation (Kansas’ Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers). The casual fan wants to be watching Cinderella this weekend, but the hardcore fan, like me, is salivating at these two matchups. Any one of these four teams could easily win it all. Let’s break it down:
UCLA (35-3) vs. Memphis (37-1)
Toughest Game Getting Here
UCLA – 2nd Round vs. Texas A&M 51-49 – If not for a blown non-call (sound familiar UCLA fans?) against A&M’s Donald Sloan on the final possession, who knows if the Bruins would still be playing today.
Memphis – 2nd Round vs. Mississippi State 77-74 – The infamous poor free-throw shooting Tigers allowed Mississippi State back into the game with a chance to tie on the last shot.
PG Darren Collison (UCLA) vs. Derrick Rose (Memphis) – Talk about a Rolls Royce vs. a Bentley. Collison is the heart and soul of the Bruins and does everything. He handles, he is their go to scorer when they need a bucket late, and he is their lock down defender on the perimeter. Rose, on the other hand, is one of the most talented players in the country, a lock top three NBA pick who is a pass first point guard who can score if need be. He doesn’t play like a Freshman. You can’t go wrong with either guy. Advantage: Push – This is a copout, by while Rose probably is the better overall talent, Collison’s a veteran of three Final Four’s and one of the toughest and smartest players in the country.
SG Russell Westbrook (UCLA) vs. Antonio Anderson (Memphis) – Westbrook is another lottery pick waiting to happen. This kid has superior athletic ability, loves to play defense, and has greatly improved his offense game in his Sophomore season. Of all of the UCLA studs, Westbrook is most loved by NBA scouts. Anderson is a spot up, catch and shoot guy who is very streaky. The Tigers are at their best when he is hot. Advantage: Westbrook – Bottom line, he is more valuable to his team and does more than Anderson.
SF Josh Shipp (UCLA) vs. Chris Douglas-Roberts (Memphis) – Shipp is the guy who stepped into the scoring role vacated by Arron Afflalo. Unfortunately for him, he picked the worst time to be mired in a shooting slump. That said, if he gets going, it opens everything up inside for Kevin Love. Douglas-Roberts is an absolute scoring machine who gets to the hole or nails you with a superb mid-range game. He may have been a first team All-American, but he is probably the most underrated player in college basketball. Advantage: Douglas-Roberts – It’s really no contest. CDR could drop 30 on anyone. UCLA included.
PF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (UCLA) vs. Robert Dozier (Memphis) – This is a battle of role players who are of the utmost importance to their teams. Mbah a Moute has been battling an ankle injury, but has been gutting it out. He is the ultimate garbage man; a mini-Dennis Rodman type who does the little things. Dozier is a skinny four man who can get you 12 and eight or completely disappear. Advantage: Mbah a Moute – A very close edge thanks to his intangibles and smarts on the court.
C Kevin Love (UCLA) vs. Joey Dorsey (Memphis) – This matchup may be the one that decides the game. Can Dorsey, the smack-talking defensive and rebounding tough guy stay out of foul trouble why trying to stop the man the UCLA offense runs through, Love? Dorsey can dunk with the best of them and is only counted on for garbage points in the paint. Love on the other hand can do it all; shoot from three, hit fade-aways, and show an array of post moves. Not to mention, he is the best passing Center you will find anywhere. Advantage: Love – He’s the best true post man in the nation west of Tyler Hansbrough and hasn’t been stopped all year.
Alfred Aboya, James Keefe, Lorenzo Mata-Real (UCLA)
Shawn Taggert, Doneal Mack, Willie Kemp, Jeff Robinson (Memphis)
Advantage: Memphis - Really, this isn’t a contest. UCLA literally gets nothing from there bench other than fouls and rebounding. Forget James Keefe’s double double in the Sweet 16, it was his career game and before that he rarely played. Meanwhile, the Tigers bench includes a solid backup PG in Kemp, their best three point shooter in Mack, and a savvy veteran PF in Taggert. They will be without Andre Allen who was suspended for violating team rules earlier this week.
The Pick: UCLA 65-64 – We desperately want to drink the Memphis Kool-Aid, we do. But there is a sneaking suspicion that Dorsey won’t be able to keep his hands off of Love and will be in foul trouble all night long. UCLA hedges better on high screens than any team you will see. Rose and Collison will cancel each other out and Westbrook will lock up CDR. Love’s massive offensive skills will be the difference.
North Carolina (36-2) vs. Kansas (35-3)
Toughest Game Getting Here
North Carolina – Elite Eight – Louisville 83-73 – This had the making of another classic Roy Williams choke-job as the Cardinals came all the way back from a 13 point deficit to tie it, but than Tyler Hansbrough took over down the stretch.
Kansas – Elite Eight – Davidson 59-57 – KU shot the ball poorly early and let Stephen Curry and company hang around long enough to scare the heck out of them. Sasha Kaun saved the day in the second half with his post play and Bill Self’s decision to go to the box and one on Curry was genius.
PG Ty Lawson (UNC) vs. Russell Robinson (Kansas) – Lawson is lightning quick with the ball and the perfect point man for Roy Williams offense. He gets up and down the floor after a made basket in a blur. Since returning from his ankle injury, UNC hasn’t lost a game and has dominated their competition. As fro Robinson, his forte is defense and play-making. He is definitely the fifth option on offense, but has been known to knock down a big three when open. It’s his Senior season and he has played like one, saving his best for last; he has been brilliant in the tournament. Advantage: Lawson – Really it’s no contest. Not one coach would take Robinson over Lawson. He is superior offensively in every way, but don’t discount what Robinson means to KU.
SG Wayne Ellington (UNC) vs. Mario Chalmers (Kansas) – When Ellington is knocking down his deep jumpers, UNC is extremely tough to beat. His problem is consistency. He is as capable of scoring 28 as he is eight. He is a classic catch and shoot two-guard who has improved his driving game. Chalmers is the guy who wants the ball at the end of the game for the Jayhawks. He is a superior three point shooter, loves to drive to the hole for a floater, and is the best off the ball defender in the nation. Advantage: Push – We wanted to give this to Chalmers, but in reality, Ellington is a better offensive player, Chalmers the better defender, but Chalmers isn’t that far off offensively.
SF Marcus Ginyard (UNC) vs. Brandon Rush (Kansas) – Ginyard is UNC’s version of Russell Robinson. He is counted on for defense and can knock down the occasional three if he is open. Williams has said he reminds him of former KU Guard and current UNC assistant Jerod Haase. Rush is the enigma. He has the talent to be the best player on the floor anytime he is out there, but too often fades in and out, camping out at the three point line, where he is KU’s best shooter. His defense also cannot be discounted. Advantage: Rush – If he plays up to the level he should, this is a mismatch. You can bet Rush will be guarding Ellington at times as well. He is KU’s best on-ball defender.
PF Tyler Hansbrough (UNC) vs. Darnell Jackson (Kansas) – Should we join the parade of people who stroke Hansbrough? Nah. Lets just state the obvious and move on. He’s the best player in college basketball and is a lock for at least 25 and 12. He is truly an unstoppable force. As for Jackson, he improved dramatically this season, becoming a reliable offensive threat, while continuing his work on the glass and the defensive end. The last month, however, he has struggled. He’ll have his hands full with Hansbrough. Advantage: Hansbrough – Did you think we’d really say Jackson?
PF Deon Thompson (UNC) vs. Darrell Arthur (Kansas) – Thompson and Arthur worked out together for the team USA U-19 team this past summer and know each other’s games well. Thompson has a solid mid-range jumper and can be counted on in the post for board work. Arthur, like Rush, is a head-scratcher at times. This kid has all the makings of a star. His fade-away jumper is money and he is a beast on the glass, but too often he commits silly fouls on defense and can’t stay on the floor for long stretches. Advantage: Arthur – Arthur has the ability to take over the game if he can get his mid-range game going. He is the superior of the two players, but if Kansas is going to win, they will need the active “Shady” to show up.
Alex Stepheson, Danny Green, Quinton Thomas, Will Graves (UNC)
Sherron Collins, Sasha Kaun, Cole Aldrich, Jeremy Case (Kansas)
Advantage: Kansas – This game features two of the best sixth men in the country in Green and Collins. Both are the X-factor for their respective team. Thomas has improved greatly with his extended PT when Lawson was injured. Stepheson is a solid third big man who really isn’t that different of a player than starter Thompson. If you get the 100% healthy Collins, Kansas is a completely different team. Sources say he has ditched the knee brace in practice in the last two days and looks great. Kaun may be the most important player in this game. He will be the one spending most of the time on Hansbrough. He’s KU’s best defensive big man and against Davidson, the best offensive one as well. Aldrich will be used to throw his body at Hansbrough as well. The Jayhawks will miss Senior G Rodrick Stewart who broke his kneecap in practice Friday.
The Pick: Kansas 85-80 – Everyone’s been talking about Roy Williams vs. his old team all week long. Roy insists it’s not about him, it’s about the players. No Roy, you are wrong. This is about you. Want to know why? Because he is so personally invested on both sides, we truly believe this will cloud his judgment. Reality is both teams love to get up and down and Kansas matches up very well with North Carolina. They have four big bodies to throw at Hansbrough and have three lockdown defenders at the guard spots. If they can hold down Ellington and Green in check, KU could roll. We think that is exactly what happens with Chalmers and Rush having big nights.