Final Four: Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State & Kansas

Final Four: Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State & Kansas

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Bluegrass State is guaranteed a finalist.

Kentucky governor Steve Beshear finds himself in a bit of a dilemma. Two teams from his state, No. 4 Louisville and No. 1 Kentucky, have reached the Final Four and will be heading to New Orleans to play in the first of two games this Saturday. The second game features Ohio State and Kansas, a pair of regional No. 2 teams. Beshear will have to tread carefully here as he risks alienating one fan or another by appearing to choose sides. Alas, we’re predicting that neither one of these teams will win the national championship, choosing one of the other contenders in an upset. Read on to find our pick.

Fab Four

Of the remaining teams in the 2012 NCAA field, only Kentucky was picked to reach the Final Four. The Wildcats remain the overall favorite to cut down the nets next Monday night inside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Getting to this point meant each team winning Sweet 16 games on Thursday or Friday followed by Elite 8 games over the weekend. Louisville, which finished in seventh place in the Big East Conference, but still managed a No. 4 seeding in the West Regional knocked off top-seeded Michigan State last Thursday, 57 to 44. Gorgui Dieng, the 6’11” center from Senegal provided the most disruption, blocking 7 Spartan shots and interfering elsewhere. Against Florida on Saturday the Cardinals relied on sophomore center Russ Smith to bring his team back from an 11 point second half deficit to eliminate the scrappy Gators.

Ohio State booted Cincinnati, its cross-state rival 81 to 66 as sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas contributed 26 points and Jared Sullinger added 23 points. Both players helped the Buckeyes rebound in the second half as a 12-point halftime lead slipped away. Against Syracuse on Saturday, Sullinger and Thomas were joined by guards William Buford and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. , in scoring a combined 64 points and putting the Orangeman away with a last minute flurry.

Kentucky’s road to the Final Four was perhaps the smoothest with big wins over Indiana (102-90) and Baylor (82-70). On Friday, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest with 24 points and Doron Lamb with 21 points led the way. The Wildcats were particularly effective at the line, drilling 35 of 37 free throw attempts. On Sunday, Kentucky took it to Baylor, going up by 20 points at halftime. Kidd-Gilchrest scored 19 points, Anthony Davis added 18 and pulled down 11 rebounds. The Bears never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way, sending Kentucky to the Big Easy as the prohibitive favorite to win it all.

Kansas had back to back games against teams from the Tar Heel state, but had a tougher time with NC State than they did with North Carolina on Sunday. The Wolfpack trimmed a 58-50 Jayhawk lead to one-point, before Elijah Johnson broke a near three-minute scoring drought to give Kansas its margin of victory. On Sunday, Kansas vanquished the No. 1 seeded Tar Heels, by scoring the game’s final 12 points. The Tar Heels were particularly terrible from three-point range, making just two of its 17 shots. Kansas pressed UNC hard down the wire as the Tar Heels missed their eight final shots.

Winner’s Circle

Who do we see winning on Saturday? Kentucky and Kansas. Although both Louisville and Ohio State have demonstrated much resiliency in the tournament so far, we think Kentucky has the strength and Kansas the coaching edge to set up the finale next Monday night. That game should be a doozy, a see-saw battle that will come down to wits. For the championship game, we’re going with the Kansas Jayhawks, with coach Bill Self outdoing his Kentucky counterpart, John Calipari.

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Categories: NCAA Basketball