The Final Four is set in New Orleans with Kentucky and Kansas joining Louisville and Ohio State in New Orleans next Saturday. TheSportsNotebook recaps the final games in the South & Midwest brackets…
SOUTH (Atlanta): Kentucky 82 Baylor 70
I thought Baylor had the talent to at least compete in this one, but Kentucky showed that when they come to play they are simply unstoppable. They were up twenty by the half and this was the only one of the four regional finals not worth watching in the second half. UK owned the free throw line, getting 44 attempts to Baylor’s 19—an advantage too great to be attributed to just end-game foul situations and translated that into a 30-16 scoring advantage. Baylor had good things going—they won the battle of the point guards, with Pierre Jackson beating Marquis Teague in both points and assists. Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy combined for 39 points and 16 rebounds. But those were the only three players who got anything done. Brady Heslip, whose three-point shooting was identified here as being key to a Bears upset, couldn’t get going. On Kentucky’s side, Anthony Davis had an 18 points/11 rebounds afternoon in spite of a collision with his knee that temporarily had Big Blue Nation undergoing a collective coronary. And Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a player I’m coming to love, concluded a great two-game through Atlanta with 19 points and 5 rebounds.
John Calipari is in the Final Four for the fourth time in his career (’96 UMass, ’08 Memphis and the past two years with Kentucky). He’s looking for his first ring. For your off-the-wall thought of the day, how about this one—if Kentucky wins it all, and the Miami Heat again come up short of a title, does Heat president Pat Riley place a call to Calipari to see if he wants to take his talents to South Beach? These are the kind of thoughts you come up with when you’re making a three-hour drive across the plains of Illinois with a fellow sports fanatic, but this one makes an almost frightening amount of sense.
MIDWEST (St. Louis) Kansas 80 North Carolina 67
The instinctive thing to say is that the loss of Kendall Marshall finally caught up to North Carolina. And there would be a basis for that belief. The UNC starting backcourt combined for nine points, while Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor hit for 22 by himself. North Carolina was out-executed down the stretch in a game much closer than the score makes it sound. As one who saw his bracket finally come down completely with the Tar Heel loss, I’m obviously sympathetic to such a line of thinking. But we have to point out that Carolina’s strength, the front line, was alarmingly pedestrian for a big game—especially a big game when the entire college hoops world knew they’d have to kick up their production. Tyler Zeller, who pounded Ohio for a 20/20 night on Friday, had 12/6 on Sunday. John Henson’s line was 10/4, and Harrison Barnes concluded a two-game stint in St. Louis that stands to cost him a lot of money in the NBA when also had a 10/4 line. Kansas, getting rebounds up and down the starting lineup, and not just from Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey, but everybody—the Jayhawks won the battle of the boards 40-30 and because of that won the game. So while there’s no point denying the obvious impact Marshall’s loss had on North Carolina, there’s also no point in ignoring that Kansas did what few—if any—teams in college basketball could have done, and it’s contain the entire Carolina frontline while owning the glass.
Bill Self makes his second Final Four trip with Kansas. The last one was with New Orleans…in 2008, when he beat Calipari’s Memphis team thanks to a huge game-tying three at the end of regulation by Jayhawk guard Mario Challmes, whom Calipari will get reacqauainted with when he goes to the Heat this summer. I’m just not going to let this theory die easily.
Saturday’s Final Four games will be Kentucky-Louisville in the opener at 6:09 PM ET, with Kansas-Ohio State following 40 minutes after the conclusion of the first. Last week, TheSportsNotebook gave a historical nod to the 1983 Mideast Regional, one that ended with an epic Louisville-Kentucky final. Now the two rivals can up the ante with their meeting in the Final Four.