Saturday, April 5, 2008

THE FOUR MUSKETEERS

One for all and all for four? For the first time in NCAA tournament history, four, count em, four no.1 seeds have finagled and dazzled their way to the big dance-off. Yes, this one is special folks. In a tournament of surprisingly a few and far in between “Cinderellas”, (No.10 seed Davidson surpassed all expectations and wowed fans with its tourney run of firsts before being barely uprooted by Kansas in the Elite Eight and No.12 seed Western Kentucky came within 4pts of blowing past UCLA before succumbing in a loss.), never has four mega conference winning heavyweights ever been assembled under one roof and yet Memphis (37-1), North Carolina (36-2), Kansas (35-3), and UCLA (35-3) will take San Antonio by storm for a tourney showdown of epic proportions!

While the analysts have it, successfully “projecting” the four best teams in the country, there can only be one team left standing and none of these four junior led powerhouses are going down without a fight.


North Carolina Tarheels

Sure Ty Hansborough is a Junior All-American and the ESPN.com Player of the Year but will he break under pressure? The race for Hansborough to win a national title before potentially exiting for the NBA draft is on and poppin’ like Chris Brown going “wall to wall” in his latest music video. The Tarheels have what you would call a winning history (Ranked no.2 All-Time with 17 Final Four appearances, ranked #1 in the nation for the 6th time, won 2 national championships to name a few) and of course there’s the graduation and ascension of the most infamous Tarheel of them all, Michael Jordan. What North Carolina possesses where other teams lack is the selflessness in which they play and the knowledge that each role is important. A role each player executes well. It’s easy to focus on Hansborough yet let’s not rule out the other four McDonald All-American players, Quentin Thomas, Bobby Frasor, Danny Green and Ty Lawson along with the majority of the Tarheels’ recruiting class. With a talented offense like this, North Carolina will work together to create those open shots despite the season statistics indicating the Tarheels’ will be stagnant against high caliber opposing teams. Carolina will defend the perimeter well but must avoid Kansas driving to the hole for easy baskets and keep a holey defense well patched. Coaching experience combined with sheer will and stellar offense might just advance these roleplayers to the NCAA finals.

Memphis Tigers
With a physical and athletic prowess Memphis has managed to silence its critics salivating at the mouth at the thought of a potential downfall at the hands of tourney favorite, the Texas Longhorns. Once the Tigers’ Achilles heel, foul shooting was all but the team’s savior in its 81-67 Elite Eight win over Texas. It is clear that many question whether Memphis deserve the right to play in the Final Four often criticizing their bounce pass style of play, however at this point one should consider how balanced of team Memphis is (perhaps the second most balanced team of the four remaining, next to Kansas.) Their hunger is apparent. Their appearance as NCAA Champions in two of my three bracket scenarios calls for their win over Kansas and North Carolina respectively is no mistake. They have shown that the USA Conference is a force to be reckoned with time and time again, defeating powerhouses Georgetown, USC and punishing teams offensively and defensively resulting in a 37-1 winning record. Of course, Kevin Love is no secret as UCLA’s post big man weapon, yet the contributions of Tigers’ guards, JaJuan Smith, O.J. Mayo, JP Prince, Robert Vaden, Stefon Jackson and Lamont Jordan will be just as instrumental in the Tigers’ ferocity with their opponents beyond this past season. If the Tigers’ can keep the Bruins’ off the perimeter, put up the numbers from the line like they did against Texas and keep Josh Shipp at bay, look for this underdog to tango in San Antonio in the national championship game for a well deserved title.

Kansas Jayhawks
Analysts have been heralding the Jayhawks as the most balanced team since before the tournament began, even going as far as to declare them the 2008 NCAA National Champions (save Dick Vitale nominating fallen Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh will reign supreme, eh Dick? I’m still scratching my head on the reasoning behind that one.) What North Carolina lacks in size, Kansas makes up. Kansas gets two points for both roster depth and overall balance. At their best, few teams have been able to slow KU down on offense. On the defensive end, KU limited Arizona and USC to a mere infant crawl on points and on the boards while keeping a pesky Davidson at bay. Don’t underestimate North Carolina on defense though as their performance has improved nicely during the second half of the season The question is simple. Will the Jayhawks bring their A-game? The key will be limiting Ty Hansborough while creating opportunities for the front court to shine. The Tarheels have struggled with well balanced teams that have a strong front court. Kansas certainly has that going for them. The statistics favor Kansas but stats don’t win championships, defense does. The Jayhawks’ better hope theirs can outweigh the synergy of the Carolina offense now that Ty Lawson is suited up and the Tarheels’ are running full throttle.

UCLA Bruins
One of the critical keys that could be the difference maker Saturday with the Bruins, the collision course destined for the NBA known as Darren Collison (besides built Ford tough forward/center, Kevin Love.) While Collison possesses tenacity, the lack of a perimeter game leaves UCLA with the toughest uphill battle facing them to continue onto the big dance in San Antonio and ultimately clinching its 12th National Championship. Pressure will also fall on a consistently shooting, Josh Shipp whose surgery on his right hip cost him most of the 2005-06 season and has been linked to his inability to duplicate successful shots in practice to successful shots on the court. Though UCLA has held three consecutive Final Four appearances, a national championship still eludes them. Will their thirst to be champions be enough fuel to win over an overpowering Memphis? The Bruins' won't be able to count on coasting with a big lead let alone a miracle win in this matchup and is all to familiar with flirting with disaster (almost becoming an honorary member of upset central at the hands of 9th seed Texas A&M and 12th seed Western Kentucky.)If prepared, UCLA will come to play with an athleticism and defense that rivals that of an NBA team (They can pull down rebounds and shoot free throws with the best of them). They'll need it to stave off star Tigers' defense killers Kevin Dorsey and Chris Douglas-Roberts who can kill D's patrolling the paint and who can deliver one good stroke from behind the arc. UCLA had better stick to what's tried and true, transitionally defense and an attacking offense (nil on the three pointers) if they any hopes of beating Memphis. Talk about a Miracle Mile.

While partial to North Carolina, I have to hold true to two of my three tourney brackets predicting Memphis as National Champions (maybe next time UCLA.) There's something about those underdogs that draws me in. Could it be their struggle mirrors my own? Well that's part of it but to be totally honest it just makes for a better story.This will be Memphis' first national title should they succeed. Plus there's nothing better than a good old fashion "I told you so" that comes with the territory of being underestimated despite your skill level and or talents. A rub it in their arrogant faces feel so to speak ha! Well, tonight to the victor goes the spoils! The chance at a national championship! Roar on Tigers'!

Memphis vs UCLA, Saturday April 5th @ 6:07pm EST
North Carolina vs Kansas, Saturday April 5th @ 8:47pm EST

2 comments:

AnthoNorm6 said...

Memphis and Kansas were able to get the job yesterday...Memphis beat UCLA and Kansas beat North Carolina..They will both play in the National Championship tomorrow...Memphis is getting great guard play from Derrick Rose, while Kansas is getting great play from Mario Charmers...Both of these players will dictate how the game goes and who will win...It is the Big 12 Conference vs. Conference USA...Big 12 is a better stronger conference but we should not doubt Conference USA...I believe that game will be a great one..Hopefully everybody tune in to watch that game because i know I will...1.

A Tru Gentleman said...

This was a great blog. You described the teams nicely. I thought that the two games would be more competitive, but Kansas shocked me with their complete dominance of UNC. I was disappointed that they lost. However, it was great to see all 4 #1 seeds made it to the Final Four.