Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Final Fabulous Four (It's Not Easy Picking This One)

With history being made (in the form of all four #1 seeds making to the 2008 Final Four, for the life of me, I cannot tell you who will not win anymore than I can tell you who will. Usually, there's one "Cinderella" team that slips by more talented teams to make it this far (and has no real business doing so). In these cases, it is this team that is usually gone by close of business tonight.

This year, all four teams have a viable and realistic chance and any one of these remaining four are more than capable of cutting down the nets Monday night. In the end, the story will depend on who played their style best and who could exploit the match-ups, better.

Memphis - UCLA

Naturally, growing up in So. Cal, I can claim some obvious emotional ties for UCLA (and I do). Despite this, I still have a certain affinity for underdogs. But this is not to say that Memphis is an underdog. The point is, Memphis is the one team in it that has the least amount of success at this level. UCLA has eleven titles, Memphis has none. So at least historically, I would call this an "ever so" slight disadvantage. But in the grander scheme of things this means very little, especially when you consider there are other pertinent factors in this game.

UCLA's defense is second to none in the NCAA. The Bruins are holding teams to an average of 53 points per game, which is impressive within itself; because with good defense, you can have an off shooting night and still be in the game and compete in the game down the stretch. Their style of defense can best be described as relentless and swarming pressure. Not many can overcome this. Just ask Mississippi Valley State, who could only manage to muster up 29 points against them in the first round.

Yet, despite my "strong" bias for both UCLA and strong defense, I think Memphis does have a good chance to win this game. Why? Because they field the most athletic team in the tourney. When they click on offense, they click on offense. When this happens, they win. They've only lost one game this season, against intrastate rival Tennessee. And the biggest reason they lost that game was a poor FT shooting performance, 8-17 or 47%. Even so, they were in the game up until the very end, mainly because of their defense (which is not too shabby either).

In essence, this game is about power offense against power defense. Since I cannot make an emphatic claim in this game, I will resist doing so (to a degree). But I will say, the team that wins will be the one that can shut the other offense down. And since Memphis is a scoring machine, I must give the advantage to them (despite my obvious bias).

North Carolina - Kansas

Both of these teams are mirror images of each other in some ways. The edge in speed must go to NC, based on their earlier tourney performances. But the other areas are pretty equal. The only team that has given NC any kind of a work-out is Louisville, who are quite athletic in their own right. But even in that game, the Tar Heels seemed to always be a step ahead of the Cardinals. They had the talent, capable of turning the level of play up a notch or two, when they needed to.

Kansas big man Sasha Kaun may be able to wreak some havoc on NC's Tyler Hansbrough, but it will take a stellar defensive performance with few fouls to even have a hope of containing him. I say this becaise, I do not think it's possible to completely stop him. As a result of this, containment becomes the only realistic goal for Kaun. That match-up aside, Kansas will need to find a way to get back on defense and slow the NC fast breaks, in addition to scoring on the Tar Heel defense.

One of the side of the drama to this game is Roy Williams' dreaded encounter, with his old team. Many people in Lawrence are still harboring some resentment for him leaving their school for his alma mater. I can understand some hurt feelings, initially. But as for me, I think it's been long enough now. It's well past time to put on adult pants and act like big boys and girls. (I think the media has perpetuated some of this for the purpose of generating both interest in the name of the almighty ratings.)

The other way to look at this is the old coach vs. the old team approach. Many times, the old coach will will win that battle, because he knows the strengths and the weaknesses of his old players, and can effectively prepare his new team to exploit them. But again, it's been too long for this scenario to be a factor, because all of these current Kansas players belong to the new coach.

With all of this said and despite the fact that I picked Kansas to win it all in my bracket, I feel that NC has the best chance of winning this one.

Update (8:25 PM):

Memphis 78


UCLA had plenty of opportunities to keep this close and be in a position to win. But in the end, it was the Memphis Tigers' superior athletic ability that forced the pace of the game. The Bruins just could not buy a basket when they needed one.

I thought Memphis ran their offense very well and shot the ball well. They have the ability to get down the court quickly, finding the seam, and accelerating well toward the basket. When they are hot, they finish their plays with emphasis and authority.

Unless, Kansas or NC comes out in supernatural form and shows far greater heart and grit than Memphis did this evening, I will go out on a limb now and say that they are the team to beat. Dick Vitale can sing the praises of North Carolina, all he wants. LASunsett says, "It's the Coach Cal and the Tigers all the way, baby!"

Update (11:35 PM):

Kansas 88
NC 66

Call this shock and awe.

This was a three part game that covered two halves. Kansas had NC thoroughly demoralized when the score was 40-12. But to their credit, the Tar Heels didn't quit and eventually regained the momentum in one of the greatest comebacks I have ever seen. Despite this gutsy surge, the Jayhawks were able to settle down and run their half-court offense with some success to close it down.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why Roy Williams didn't have them fouling, while they were still in it. Kansas was not shooting the ball well from the FT line, this would have given NC some much needed rest down the stretch, after they had expended so much energy in that phenomenal comeback.

Both teams made some mistakes, both teams got rattled when the other had the momentum. Kansas must be careful not to get cocky and reckless when they get a good lead, if they are to have any chance against Memphis. Memphis likes to capitalize on an opponent's miscues.


Obob said...

The media overhypes something? Shocking. To be honest, I imagine my uncle and cousins who went to KU probably still hold a grudge.

LASunsett said...

Well Obob, looks like they get their revenge.

A.C. McCloud said...

I agree Williams should have started having his players foul under 3 minutes based on the FT shooting to that point. Curious. KS benefited from the same lack of press Memphis did, nobody picked them over the great NC. Now in the final they're both equal.

LASunsett said...

//KS benefited from the same lack of press Memphis did//

Very true. I think the pundits have not given either team the respect they deserve.

But I also think that in the grand scheme of things, losing that game to Tennessee was the best thing that could have happened to Memphis.

The pressure of an undefeated season would have been too much at this late stage. Now they are playing loose, confident, and they now know what they will have to do in order to win Monday night. All they have to do is do it.

Greg said...

Hey, I picked a game right! I had Kansas in the final, but vs. Michigan St. I'm still last in my office pool. :(

Kansas v. Memphis is a great matchup. They are very similar. Did I hear right that the game is on after 9:00 pm eastern time? Ugh.

A.C. McCloud said...

I agree on Tennessee. I think the thing about KS was the Davidson game made people think they weren't that good--on the contrary, Davidson was actually THAT good.

LASunsett said...

//Did I hear right that the game is on after 9:00 pm eastern time? //

Communist forces have infiltrated our media. It's a plot, I say.

I may not watch it all. I have a long, long day that starts very early in the AM.

LASunsett said...

//Davidson was actually THAT good.//

I think they are that good, even though I didn't know it until after their performance in the tourney.

It's going to be a good game tonight. Advantage goes to Memphis, but there's a reason why they play the game. If KS can play defense against a clearly more athletic team, they may pull it off.

A.C. McCloud said...

Wow is all I can say. Those darned J-hawks took out both my favorites. Memphis just couldn't foul under 5 and couldn't make free throws. KS could. OT was just a formality.