NCAA Final Four preview: Tale of the tape

NCAA Final Four preview: Tale of the tape
March 31, 2012, 6:34 am
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Its not Mardi Gras but New Orleans will play host to a party this weekend.
On Saturday, archrivals Louisville and Kentucky square off in the first game of the NCAA Final Four, which will be followed by an equally intriguing Ohio State-Kansas matchup.
To help get you ready for college basketballs biggest weekend, heres a breakdown of both Final Four games, from the important to the inane.
Kentucky (36-2) vs. Louisville (30-9)
Saturday 6:09 p.m., CBS
Road to New Orleans: The top seed in the East, Kentucky hasnt truly been challenged yet, beating Western Kentucky, Iowa State, Indiana and Baylor by double digits. Louisville, the No. 4 seed out of the West, is a bit more battle-tested, beating Davidson and New Mexico, before springing a big upset on Michigan State and then holding off a talented Florida squad. Advantage: Louisville.
Coaches: Remarkably, both Kentucky coach John Calipari and Louisville head man Rick Pitino have taken three different teams to the Final Four. Throw in the fact that the two are former friends and current enemies and this has all the makings of a classic duel. Advantage: Both of their egos.
Star attraction: Kentuckys 6-foot-10 center Anthony Davis was just named the Associated Press Player of the Year after averaging 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.6 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. Louisvilles Peyton Siva is a nice point guard but, with six guys averaging between nine and 13 points per game, the Cardinals dont have a true go-to-guy. Advantage: Kentucky.
X-factor: Louisvilles Gorgui Dieng has transformed into an excellent center, who will need to have a huge game to slow down Davis and company. As the only senior on Kentucky, Darius Miller may need to calm some nerves if its a close game. Advantage: Kentucky.
Style of play: Both the Wildcats and Cardinals are among the best defensive teams in the nation but the difference is Kentucky has a near-unstoppable transition attack that leads to crippling runs and tons of points in a hurry. Advantage: Kentucky.
Basketball aura: Louisville has won two national titles and been to nine Final Fours but is no match for Kentucky, the winningest program in the history of college basketball. Advantage: Kentucky.
Karma: After going just 10-8 in the Big East, Louisville has enjoyed a magical ride to win the conference tournament and earn this years most surprising Final Four berth. Kentucky has had the best team in the nation all season but its a team thats mostly assembled with one-and-done freshmen. The basketball gods dont look kindly upon that kind of thing. Advantage: Louisville.
Mascot: Yes, a wildcat would hunt down and eat a cardinal but there are simply way too many teams named the Wildcats out there. Advantage: Louisville.
Famous basketball alumni: Pat Riley got his start at Kentucky before becoming one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. Wes Unseld was a three-time All-American before his Hall of Fame NBA playing career began. Advantage: Even.
Famous non-basketball alumni: Actress and Wildcats superfan Ashley Judd may be on Kentuckys side but only the Cardinals boast a graduate (Frank Neuhauser), who won the first-ever National Spelling Bee (in 1925) by correctly spelling the word gladiolus in the final round. Advantage: Anyone that just learned how to spell gladiolus.
Philly connection: Longtime Eagles kicker David Akers went to Louisville, while Kentucky alum Joe Blanton helped pitch (and hit) the Phillies to the 2008 World Series title. Advantage: Louisville.
Prediction: While its true Kentucky has all the pressure on it in what should be an epic game between in-state rivals, the Wildcats are just too deep and too talented to lose to a team that barely finished above .500 in conference play. Kentucky 83, Louisville 75.
Ohio State (31-7) vs. Kansas (31-6)
Saturday 8:49 p.m., CBS
Road to New Orleans: The No. 2 seed in the East, Ohio State toppled Loyola (MD), Gonzaga, Cincinnati and top-seeded Syracuse to book its place in the Final Four. Kansas probably had a slightly tougher road, knocking off Detroit, edging Purdue and N.C. State, before upsetting top-seeded North Carolina. Advantage: Kansas.
Coaches: This is a heavyweight battle between Ohio States Thad Matta (20 or more wins in his first 12 seasons as head coach) and Kansass Bill Self (a five-time finalist for Naismith Coach of the Year). Advantage: Kansas.
Star attraction: Kansass Thomas Robinson (17.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg) and Ohio States Jared Sullinger (17.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg) are two of the best players in the nation and should engage in a fierce inside battle. Advantage: The viewers.
X-factor: Ohio States Aaron Craft is a terrific perimeter defender, whos fine letting Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas (16.1 ppg) and Will Buford (14.4 ppg) do most of the scoring. Travis Releford plays a similar role for Kansas and will look to slow down Buford and help free up Tyshawn Taylor (16.7 ppg) for good looks. Advantage: Ohio State.
Style of play: The Buckeyes have the personnel where theyre able blend a fast-paced style with a slow-it-down halfcourt offense, depending on what the game calls for. The Jayhawks prefer to get out and run and can go through scoring droughts when theyre not able to. Advantage: Ohio State.
Basketball aura: Kansas holds the longest current streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (23) and is arguably the second-most prestigious program behind Kentucky. Ohio State has a good tradition too but its last and only national title came in 1960. Advantage: Kansas.
Karma: Shortly after Ohio States devastating loss to Kentucky in last years NCAA tournament, Sullinger declared hed be back for at least one more year and has since made the most of it. The Jayhawks somehow made the Final Four despite integrating four new starters and overcoming plenty of other obstacles too. Advantage: Kansas.
Mascot: The Jayhawk is a mythical bird that actually looks kind of adorable much better, at least, than a mascot named after a state nickname thats named after a tree. Sorry, Buckeyes. Advantage: Kansas.
Famous basketball alumni: Kansas alum Wilt Chamberlain is arguably the greatest basketball player ever. Hall of Famers and Ohio State alums John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas were great but not that great. Advantage: Kansas.
Famous non-basketball alumni: Both schools have an insane amount of successful alumni, so were going to arbitrarily matchup horror fiction novelist R.L. Stine (Ohio State) against comedic actor Paul Rudd (Kansas). In honor of Anchorman 2 just being announced, well go with Brian Fantana. Theyve done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time. Advantage: Kansas.
Philly connection: Who will go down as the better Philadelphia 76er Chamberlain or ex-Ohio State star Evan Turner? Well give the edge to Wilt for now. Advantage: Kansas.
Prediction: While Kansas-Louisville is getting most of the attention for the rivalry aspect, the nightcap could be a classic game between two very evenly matched teams. In the end though, the Buckeyes will prevail and then upset Kentucky to win the national title. Ohio State 72, Kansas 71.
E-mail Dave Zeitlin at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

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