NCAA Basketball Report: 2012 Final Four Preview
The 2012 Final Four includes four NCAA basketball programs that have each won at least one national championship in its history. In total, Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas have 49 Final Four appearances and 13 NCAA basketball titles between them.
These four teams will play in New Orleans on Saturday to determine which schools will play for the 2012 title on Monday night. Here’s a preview of the 2012 Final Four games:
Saturday, March 31
Kentucky vs. Louisville
Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, LA); 6:09 PM (ET)
The South Region champion and most dominant team in the NCAA this season, Kentucky (36-2) is heavily favored to win their first NCAA championship since 1998. To do so, coach John Calipari’s Wildcats must get by their in-state rival, whom they beat, 69-62, on Dec. 31. The Big East and West Region champions, Louisville (30-9) has won eight games in a row, including five over ranked teams. Coached by former Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino, the Cardinals are seeking their first NCAA title since 1986.
Freshman Anthony Davis is Kentucky’s biggest weapon, and he may be the best player in the nation. Davis leads the Wildcats in scoring with 14.3 points per game, but he’s even a bigger force on defense with 4.6 blocks and 10.1 rebounds per game. Many of those blocks and rebounds turn into fast break opportunities for Kentucky. Fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the most valuable player of the South Regional, averaging 21.5 points per game in his last two contests. Guard Doron Lamb is the Wildcats’ most effective 3-point shooter. Expect Kentucky to try to keep the game moving quickly on offense and challenge Louisville with their formidable depth.
The Cardinals rely on point guard Peyton Siva to trigger the offense. Forward Chane Behanan has been Louisville’s most consistent scorer in the tournament, while guards Russ and Chris Smith — no relation — can be effective 3-point shooters who often get open once Siva breaks down a defense. Team-leading scorer Kyle Kuric will have to do better than the 7.5 points he averaged against Michigan State and Florida in the past two games. For the Cardinals to win, center Gorgui Dieng must be effective in containing Kentucky’s Davis and getting him into foul trouble on the offensive end. Louisville plays pressure defense, and Kentucky must keep its turnovers down and play under control.
Ohio State vs. Kansas
Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, LA); 8:49 PM (ET)
Eliminated by upstart Kentucky in the 2011 tournament, East Region champ Ohio State (31-7) has seemed driven to return to the 2012 Final Four. Coach Thad Matta and his impressive starting five are gunning for the Buckeyes’ first national championship since 1960. To accomplish that, Ohio State must beat a Kansas team that defeated them, 78-67, on Dec. 10. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for coach Bill Self at Kansas (31-6), but the Midwest Region champs find themselves back in the Final Four and looking to win another title like they did in 2008.
Almost guaranteed to be a lottery pick whenever he opts for the NBA, Ohio State center Jared Sullinger is the player that opposing teams must account for first. Averaging 17.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, Sullinger is difficult to defend. Point guard Aaron Craft guides the Buckeyes offense and is adept at scoring, as well as finding both Deshaun Thomas and William Buford, the other Ohio State scoring threats. On defense, Sullinger can get into foul trouble, as he has done in three of Ohio State’s losses this season. He missed the loss against Kansas with back spasms. A physical, tight-knit team, the Buckeyes want to control the pace and run half-court sets on offense, while keeping Kansas from running out on offense.
Averaging 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, Kansas forward Thomas Robinson is among the best players in the nation. When teams collapse to help stop Robinson, guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson are usually open outside. If they connect, Kansas becomes nearly impossible to stop. Defensively, center Jeff Withey has been a terror, blocking 3.5 shots per game this season, including 10 against North Carolina State in the regional semifinals. Expect him and Robinson to make Sullinger work for points, while the Kansas guards provide relentless perimeter defense. Kansas wants to run and make Ohio State take shots away from their favorite spots.