2012 Final Four Preview: Ten Burning Questions about the Final Four in New Orleans

BY: Kels Dayton

You have Final Four questions. We have answers. Long-winded answers, sure, but answers nonetheless. Kels Dayton spent Monday pouring over the thousands upon thousands of mailbag questions he received, and whittled them down to ten mind-blowing questions that burn with the fire of a thousand suns. He then answered them with the knowledge and insight of  Yoda or that particularly bright homeless guy on the side of the road. Okay, so he made up the questions. And that homeless guy is definitely more knowledgeable. But still…read on. 

Q: How impressive is it that Kansas has reached the Final Four? 

Thomas Robinson and Kansas outmuscled North Carolina on their way to the Final Four. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Pretty freakin’ impressive. Kansas lost four starters from last year’s 33-win team, including lottery picks Marcus and Markieff Morris and Josh Selby.

It appeared as though it was going to be a down year in Lawrence, but coach Bill Self just doesn’t do ‘down’ years. Self coaxed yet another conference championship out of this bunch, helped turn Thomas Robinson from a role-playing reserve to a National Player of the Year candidate, and instilled his team with the confidence it needed to play as well as it has.

Tyshawn Taylor is an eye-rolling x-factor, but he has been “Good Tyshawn” a lot more than “Bad Tyshawn” in this tournament. Taylor is capable of putting the team on his back and carrying the Jayhawks during stretches, although just as capable of turning the ball over in spectacularly dumb fashion.

Elijah Johnson has emerged as a big-time shot-maker in the clutch, and Jeff Withey‘s steady improvement mirrors that of Cole Aldrich during the 2008 Final Four. All of that can be credited to Self, who has guided this young team to heights no one outside of the Jayhawks locker room believed was possible this season.

Q:What is the most impressive thing about these student-athletes?

If you’ve ever been to a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 NCAA Tournament game, you know that the atmosphere in the building is absolutely incredible.

There are upwards of 40,000 screaming fans, usually in a giant football stadium with a basketball court plopped aimlessly in the middle. Every move you make is dissected more intensely than a pig in science class. Every dribble, every shot is packed with enough pressure to make your water heater explode like a North Korean missile.

And forget about hiding. Unlike other sports, you can’t duck under a hat or helmet. You’re not lost in the middle of the offensive line, where the majority of the people in the stadium don’t notice your existence.

I wouldn’t have the nerve to dribble the ball up the court in that type of atmosphere. And yet, these kids excel in this situation. No one completely loses their mind. The confidence it takes to perform on the level in which they are demanded to in front of that many people at 18, 19, 20 years old is remarkable. It is amazing, and certainly worth mention in today’s cutthroat sports culture.

Q: Can anyone beat Kentucky?

Anthony Davis and the Wildcats are the prohibitive favorites to cut the nets down in New Orleans. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It’s going to be ridiculously tough.

The Wildcats are clearly the best team in this field, and probably the best college basketball team since 2008, when Kansas won the National Championship and Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA were stacked with future pros.

Kentucky turned a 10-5 deficit into a 21-10 lead in the blink of an eye against Baylor, and thoroughly punished the Bears in a dominant Elite Eight performance.

The Wildcats have been head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest of the field this season, and as Westwood One radio’s John Thompson said, “It’s scary when the best team is playing the best in the tournament.”

It’s going to take a monumental performance from one of the other three teams in this Final Four to knock off the ‘Cats.

Q: Which team has the best chance?

 Ohio State appears to be the biggest threat to the Wildcats because of their size and talent inside.

Forward Jared Sullinger is an absolute beast down low, and the versatile Deshaun Thomas may actually present some matchup problems for the ‘Cats, because he carries a lot of weight in the paint. (Sorry to go all Clark Kellogg on you there). 

Point guard Aaron Craft may be the best defensive guard in the nation, and if William Buford gets hot, the Buckeyes have plenty of weapons to hang with the Wildcats.

They are also one of the best half-court scoring teams in the nation, which is one weakness Kentucky has shown (kind of).

Q: Can Louisville pull a 2011 UConn and stun the country and the ‘Commonwealth’ in the National Semis?

Louisville is an incredible story, but can the Cardinals knock out Kentucky on the biggest stage in their rivalry

It would be the greatest moment in Louisville history, and probably the best moment in the history of basketball in Kentucky.

The problem with all of the comparisons to last year’s UConn team is that Louisville doesn’t have the one ingredient that UConn had that took them from Big East also-ran to national champ–Kemba Walker.

Peyton Siva is a terrific player, and the young Cardinals have stepped up beside him; much in the way that UConn’s young guns played way over their heads in 2011. But no one would argue that Siva is the nation’s best player, just like no one after the NCAA Tournament last season would argue that Kemba wasn’t the best in America.

It would be STUNNING–all-caps–if Louisville took down Kentucky on Saturday evening. But don’t think for one second that Rick Pitino isn’t reminding his team about how big of an underdog it is heading into this game. The Cardinals will be about as motivated as you can possibly be to play in a basketball game, and Kentucky will have to match their passion.

Q: What would it take for Kansas to cut down the nets? 

Travis Releford and the Jayhawks are on an amazing ride. (Photo: Robert Cohen/St. Louis Dispatch)

Thomas Robinson would have to channel Vince Young-circa 2005 and come out absolutely determined to prove that he deserves the National Player of the Year Award. Young was upset that Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy in ’05, and vowed to show the nation why he was the best player in college football that year in the National Championship game against USC.

If Robinson comes out with a personal vendetta against rival big men Jared Sullinger and Anthony Davis, he could help write a similar script. Of course, that Texas team was a season-long juggernaut that edged USC in one of the biggest clashes of heavyweights in sports history. If Kansas defeats Kentucky on Monday night in New Orleans, it will go down as one of the bigger upsets in college basketball history.

Q: What will we remember about this tournament 20 years from now?

Jim Nantz will be waxing poetically about Norfolk State for years to come. (Photo: ESPN)

Norfolk State and Lehigh came up with two of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, and they happened within 3 hours of each other. Those games were the kind of moments that Jim Nantz will describe as “indelible” as he warm-heartedly narrates them in video pieces for years to come. This year’s tournament wasn’t as crazy as the past two year’s, and it hasn’t had that one buzzer-beating game that distinguished itself as unique.

Still, with two 15-seeds taking out No. 2’s, a dominant juggernaut in Kentucky marching towards John Calipari’s first-ever national championship (until it is vacated five years from now), and an incredible rivalry game taking place in the Final Four, this has been a memorable NCAA Tournament.

All it would take for it to become even more special is for someone to knock out the Wildcats in spectacular fashion. But even if Kentucky storms its way to the title, this has been a fun NCAA Tournament and one that will remain memorable for years to come.

Q: Is Tim Tebow the Christian Laettner of football?

Christian Laettner would be just as annoying as Tim Tebow if he played today. (Photo: ESPN)

Yes. Great college player…awful in the pros. Like Tebow, Laettner won two national championships in college, captivated the nation because of the fact that he was extraordinarily successful, white, and extremely polarizing. If Laettner had played today, there would be Laettnermania, although it may not have approached the ridiculous heights of Tebowmania.

Q: What is the main thing that could derail Kentucky in the Final Four?

Foul trouble is always a concern, and Ohio State has the bigs to put Anthony Davis on the bench for a while. Still, Kentucky is too deep, and will need to struggle from the field against a tough Buckeyes defense in order to be slipped up.

Q: Is Kentucky the best team of the past decade?

WFAN’s Mike Francesa remarked today that he thought Kentucky was the best team of the past decade, which gives life to this absurd topic. Francesa then followed that comment up by saying that he thinks that Kansas is not well coached. So yeah, he’s got zero credibility left when it comes to college basketball.

It is amazing how short people’s memories are. Kentucky has four or five pros and is clearly the best team in 2012, but they aren’t the best collection of talent the game has seen in the past decade. Give me 2009 North Carolina, 2008 Kansas, 2004 Connecticut, or even 2007 Florida, which by the way, won back-to-back national titles. Kentucky seems more dominant this year because the competition isn’t close to what it has been in the past, but they aren’t as good as those teams, particularly ’08 Kansas, which beat a team led by Derrick Rose in the national final.

The 2008 Jayhawks would handle this Wildcat team.


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