Squads that make the final four are complete teams. To win four games in the tourney, a team has to be solid on both ends of the court and cannot have any major deficiencies. Last year Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, and Ohio State reached the summit of college basketball by arriving at the final four. Here are my picks to make this year’s final four:
I like the Cards to make it out of the Midwest region. Not only do they play swarming pressure defense, Rick Pitino’s squad also boasts arguably the best offensive backcourt in the country. Experienced point man Peyton Siva is the engine that makes Louisville go. A pass-first point guard, Siva both knows how to orchestrate an excellent offense and is capable of hitting big shots and free-throws. He was a leader on their final four team last season. In the backcourt he is joined by explosive scorer Russ Smith (who might also be the best on-ball defender in the nation). Smith is a rare talent who can score from anywhere on the court. The Cardinals can also bang with the best of them down low. They boast Gorgui Dieng, an imposing seven-foot center from Senegal who averages an impressive ten points and ten rebounds per game. Also contributing is Monterzl Harrell, a 6-8 freshman forward who also is a solid rebounder. He exploded for 20 points in the Big East Final against Syracuse. And then there is Chane Behanan. Despite being only 6-6, Behanan is a rock down low and averages nearly seven rebounds per game. This is a team with an excellent frontcourt to match its backcourt. Louisville is legitimately better than last year’s final four outfit. They are more experienced, better defensively, and overall more dangerous. That is why they are a trendy National Title pick.
John Thompson III has his best team since 2007, the last time Georgetown made the final four. The Hoyas do everything you want to see from a championship caliber team. They are efficient offensively. They share the ball. They play lockdown defense. Above all, they play the game at their pace. Belying their youth, the well-coached Hoyas rarely turn the ball over and are unflappable when faced with a press. In Big East play, the Hoyas only allowed a team to score more than 63 points in regulation on them twice. Villanova and Pitt were the two teams that were able to get over that mark. Georgetown also held Louisville to 51 points, Notre Dame to 47 points, and Syracuse to under 60 points in all three meetings. Thompson is also lucky to have Otto Porter Jr. on his team. A sophomore, Porter has emerged as one of the nation’s best players this season (and one of the most highly coveted NBA prospects). Porter scores with tremendous ease without dominating the ball. My brother described Porter’s 33 points in a 57-46 February win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome as “quiet”. Indeed, Porter managed to score 33 points on only 19 shots. Otto is also an excellent rebounder, but he is not the Hoya’s only player who can battle for rebounds. Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins are also capable rebounders. With a star scorer, an excellent defense, and one of the country’s best coaches, the Hoyas look like a contender to me.
What happens when you combine a pure scorer who gets 20 points a night, a stellar all-around point guard, a bunch of excellent rebounders, and get them all to play together and do a great job defensively? You get the Buckeyes. Ohio State, which comes into the tourney hot off of an impressive Big Ten Title run that included wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin, is playing as well as any team in the country right now. The Buckeyes have a dynamite scorer and rebounder in Deshaun Thomas, whose 20 points per game are even more impressive when you consider the fact that Ohio State does not play an up-tempo style offensively. Instead they rely on capable junior Aaron Craft, who is a much better player than his 10 points and 5 assists would indicate, (not that those numbers are too shabby) to run their efficient half court sets. As a fan of Boston College, I also feel the need to mention the Buckeyes’ backup center, Evan Ravenel, a former Eagle who has found terrific success at Ohio State since transferring after the 2010 season. He is a top-notch rebounder. Perhaps the best thing about the Buckeyes is that they don’t do anything poorly and they don’t play themselves out of games. That, and the fact that the Buckeyes are scorching hot coming into the tourney, is a big part of why many people are giving Ohio State a long look when predicting a National Champion.
There are a few things that separate the Hurricanes from the rest of the field. The first is experience. Jim Larranga’s team is remarkably old. The ‘Canes have a whopping six seniors, and five are major contributors. They also have only four underclassmen, only one of whom (that being superstar point guard Shane Larkin) gets any serious playing time. This is a team with tremendous veteran leadership, great chemistry, and an awareness of what it takes to win. The ‘Canes are also incredibly big. They have three formidable 6-10+ centers, all of whom would start on nearly any other team in nation. The first, and my favorite, is Florida transfer Kenny Kadji. Kadji is a 5 with skills most 2s would die to have. He is freakishly athletic at seven feet and a capable ball handler. Also, he is pure gold from deep. With range well beyond the three point line, he is as deadly a shooter as there is in the coutry. My advice to any team that plays Miami: DO NOT LEAVE HIM. This may sound easy, but the Canes have more than one deadly three point shooter (Durand Scott, Shane Larkin, Trey McKinney Jones, the list goes on). Kadji, however, is not merely a nasty shooter. He is also capable of wreaking havoc on drives or by posting people up and is marksmen from the mid-range. Lastly, Kadji, like the Hurricanes’ other bigs, is a superstar rebounder. He averages seven boards a game, and this is on a team with possibly the best rebounder in the country: Reggie Johnson. Johnson, like Kadji, is a matchup nightmare for opponents. The powerful near seven-footer weighs slightly more than an average elephant. Johnson dominates the boards on both ends and possesses an intimidating post up game. Miami’s third excellent center is Julian Gamble. Gamble is a good athlete and a great post defender. The Hurricanes have another talented big man– seven footer Tonye Jekeri is a promising freshman who plays relief minutes for the top three bigs. In fact, perhaps Miami’s greatest strength is their depth. They have tremendous depth both in their frontcourt and their backcourt. As good as guards Shane Larkin, Durand Scott, and Trey McKinney Jones are, their replacements, Rion Brown and Erik Swoop, are also talented. To me Miami has the Holy Trinity: they have experience, size, and depth. They also are elite on both ends of the court. All these factors have many (including me) picking the U to win it all.
My Title Pick: Miami over Louisville