Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Storming The Floor's Final Four Preview

Illustration for article titled Storming The Floor's Final Four Preview

Storming The Floor looks at the Final Four, which tips off tomorrow. Oh, and this South Park "photo" of the coaches is from Gutty Little Bruins, which is probably why John Calipari looks a little off.


STF Final Four Capsules

Team: Kansas Jayhawks

How they got here: Beat #16 Portland State, #8 UNLV, #12 Villanova, #10 Davidson

Key player: Pick 'em. Brandon Rush led the scoring against Portland State. Mario Chalmers took over against UNLV. Then it was Rush again vs. Villanova. Sasha Kaun, of all people, saved the Jayhawks' bacon against Davidson. UNC's all-everything Forward Tyler Hansbrough is better individually than any Jayhawk who will check him, so the 'Hawks will have to throw big bodies at him. That means the perimeter defense of Brandon Rush on Danny Green will be crucial. If Rush can limit the long-distance shots and hit a few of his own, Kansas might be able to pull this one off.

Rooting interest: There are no underdogs in this Final Four, so we'll be looking for other reasons to root for these dominant teams. For Kansas players, basketball has been a refuge from personal pain, as illnesses, murdered relatives, car accidents and other difficulties have beset many of the players all season long. It would be nice to see a ray of sunshine. In addition, it's been 20 years since Danny and the Miracles claimed the 1988 crown, and now Mr. Manning is on the Kansas sideline as an assistant coach. That may be just the edge this star-crossed squad needs to get over the hump.

Final Four History: KU's last Final Four appearance came in 2003, when they defeated Marquette by more than 30 points before falling to Syracuse in the championship game. The coach who pulled that off, Roy Williams, is currently sitting on the other sideline. This is the first time Kansas coach Bill Self has made the final weekend with any team.

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

How they got here: Beat #16 Mount St. Mary's, #9 Arkansas, #4 Washington State, #3 Louisville.


Key Player: Tyler Hansbrough. The Naismith Award winner for player of the year in college basketball has made even the haters give a little grudging respect. He never takes a play off, and he is capable of turning to the jumper when his inside game struggles. However, getting his hand on every rebound in the vicinity gives him ample chances to score, and when he scores, the Tar Heels win.

Rooting Interest: UNC went through a difficult stretch in the mid-season to get here. When guard Bobby Frasor went down with a torn ACL, that was a harsh blow. Then Ty Lawson, who was taking some of Frasor's minutes, was out for seven games with a sprained ankle. Magical leprechaun Roy Williams used all of his pixie dust to keep the dadgum Tar Heels in it, and even a home loss to Duke didn't faze his club. They just went back out and returned the favor in Cameron to end the season. Plus, it's just difficult to root against a head coach who says "Doggone."


Final Four History: Carolina's last Final Four was in 2005, the year they won it all. That was Roy Williams' first championship game win, but he had the benefit of four trips to the final weekend with Kansas before he ever took the Carolina job, including two Championship game losses. And lest we think that Coach Roy owns his opponent, it was Bill Self and the Illini that knocked Williams out in the Sweet 16 in 2001.

PREDICTION: CAROLINA. If this were all about runnin', gunnin' guard play, Kansas might have the edge. But Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, and Darrell Arthur will have their collective hands full trying to pin down Hansbrough. Rush or Chalmers will have to have an out-of-body experience from behind the arc to pull this one off.


Team: Memphis Tigers

How they got here: Beat #16 Texas-Arlington, #8 Mississippi State, #5 Michigan State, #2 Texas


Key player: We love the old-school style of first team All-American CDR as much as the next guy, but point guard Derrick Rose is difference between this team and the two Memphis teams that were stopped in the Elite Eight. Rose has elevated his game late in the season in the scoring department and gives the Tigers not only an elite point guard to control the tempo, but a go-to man down the stretch when the game is on the line.

Rooting interest: Memphis has to be the Cinderella (or Rumpelstiltzkin ) team of the Final Four, right? Well, actually no, any team that goes 37-1 and spends five weeks at #1 can't seriously be considered a Cinderella. The only reason that they are even considered an underdog is fact that everyone and their brother had the Tigers crapping out two weeks ago and that the other three teams in the Final Four have a combined 48 Final Four appearances between them. Want a better reason to root for Memphis? Seeing the reaction of old, white sports reporters having a collective heart-attack while watching a Memphis team that couldn't give two shits about fundamentals or free throws cutting the nets down will be well worth it.


Final Four History: Memphis doesn't have nearly the pedigree of a UCLA or North Carolina, but it has made appearances in two other Final Fours, which is alot more than many teams can claim. In 1985, the Tigers ran into Rollie Massimino's miracle Nova squad and fell in the semifinals. In 1973, the Tigers advanced all the way to the championship game, where they were defeated by the Bill Walton-led Bruins.

Team: UCLA Bruins

How they got here: Beat #16 Mississippi Valley State, #9 Texas A&M, #12 Western Kentucky, #3 Xavier.


Key player: The easy choice here would be to go with Mr. Chest Pass Kevin Love as the key player for the Final Four, as he has no doubt been in first four games, leading the Bruins in scoring each time Thing is, Love is going to get the Bruins at least 20 and 10 as long as he steps on the floor. The key to UCLA advancing to the championship game will whether or not anyone in the recently inconsistent supporting cast steps on the offensive end to help him out. In particular, Josh Shipp can't play with his head inside his ass like he did against Texas A&M and Xavier, scoring a combined five points in those two games. The Bruins will need Shipp to be a viable outside threat if they hope to beat Memphis and UNC/Kansas.

Rooting interest: Sure, UCLA has more champions and Final Four appearances than any team in college basketball, but this UCLA team is fast on its way to becoming the Buffalo Bills of college basketball if they don't win the NCAA Championship this season. The past two seasons, UCLA's season ended after facing the Florida Gators. With Joakim Noah and the rest of that Gators squad scattered around the NBA, the Bruins have no excuses this season. So unless you want Berman picking UCLA to win the national championship for the next 12 seasons like he did with the Bills and the Super Bowl, root for the Bruins to get it done this year.


Final Four History: The Bruins under John Wooden kind of owned the 1960s and 70s, making the Final Four in all but one season from 1962 to 1977, and winning the whole thing 10 times in the process. Want to know the team that stopped that UCLA run? Idaho State, which knocked off the Bruins 76-75 in the Round of 32 in 1977. Bet you didn't see that coming? Bruins also reached the Final Four in 1980, 1995, 2006 and 2007, so you can guess that they Bruins are pretty used to this whole thing by now.

PREDICTION: UCLA. This one is probably going down to the wire thanks to the athleticism of Memphis, but the Bruins are way overdue for a complete game on both offensive and defensive ends, so we'll go with them in a tight one. The Bruins defense will not allow the same kind of easy shots that the Tigers got against Texas and Josh Shipp can't stay in a shooting slump forever. Also give the Bruins the edge in the hunger factor, as the Tigers' season was probably made when they advanced to the Final Four, while the Bruins will be viewed as a colossal failure if they don't cut down the nets this season.