For the first time since the NCAA bracket began seeding in 1979, four number-one seeds have reached the Final Four. Despite the fact that this is a first-time occurrence, I still can’t help but ask if this was really that surprising? Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina were all powerhouses this season. Three of the four teams won both the regular season and their conference tournament in the Big 12, the Pac 10 and the ACC, which are traditionally three of the strongest conferences in the country. While Memphis played in the meager Conference USA, the Tigers dominated their competition in impressive fashion, finishing an astonishing 30-1 at the end of the regular season. The four finalists have a staggering 143 wins and only nine losses between them, which is an incredible statistic.
Another major reason the cream was able to rise to the top this season is that the two through four seeds were extremely weak across the board. Two number-four seeds lost in the first round (UCONN and Vanderbilt). Both Georgetown (two) and Wisconsin (three) lost to this year’s Cinderella story, Davidson. And in case you want to argue that these losses were flukes, come on. Georgetown entered the tournament after losing to Pittsburgh by double digits despite the Panthers only converting fifty percent of their free throws, and Wisconsin played in the extremely weak Big Ten. West Virginia soundly defeated second-seeded Duke, and Stanford and Tennessee were handily defeated in their Sweet 16 match-ups. Xavier and Texas had decent runs, but never really tested the Bruins or the Tigers down the stretch. Louisville and Davidson were arguably the two best challengers. Louisville took North Carolina deep into the second half, but was unable to contend with the awesome willpower of Tyler Hansbrough. While Davidson had a last second shot to win the game, Kansas played great defense on the last possession to secure their birth into the Final Four. Overall, the one seeds were simply not tested too much on their way to San Antonio.
Given that all four teams have looked so good throughout the season, this is undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated Final Fours in history. While I think that Memphis and UCLA have the potential to play an epic game, I fully expect North Carolina to smack Kansas all over the basketball court on Saturday night. I’m sorry to all of the Kansas faithful out there, but face facts. En route to San Antonio, Kansas beat Portland State (16), UNLV (8), Villanova (12), and Davidson (10). Add up the total seeds that Kansas played, and one gets 46. North Carolina, on the other hand, beat Mount St. Mary’s (16), Arkansas (9), Washington St. (four) and Louisville (three) for a total of 32. North Carolina also beat its opponents by a combined margin of 101 points. Kansas barely escaped a nailbiter against Davidson and its one-man offense. How do the Jayhawks expect to defend the phenomenal trio of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington? I’m not questioning Kansas’ prodigious offense capabilities. KU is the most balanced and deepest team in the tournament offensively. Their experienced guard play and tremendous senior leadership have carried them through to this point, but I don’t think they will be prepared for a team of North Carolina’s caliber. Bill Self is nowhere near the coach that Roy Williams is. The UNC graduate will have the Tar Heels firing on all cylinders when they handily beat Kansas and punch its ticket to the finals.
The Memphis/UCLA match-up should be an incredible game to watch. After a brief end-of-the-season slump, it appears that UCLA is once again playing up to its immense potential. With three consecutive trips to the Final Four, Head Coach Ben Howland is hoping that freshman sensation Kevin Love will be enough to put them over the hump this season in their quest for a national championship. Memphis was dominant throughout its tournament run, with the exception of a small hiccup against Mississippi State. However, what’s been most surprising in Memphis’ tournament run has been its free throw shooting. During the season Memphis’ free throw shooting percentage was third-worst in the nation, but in their last two wins over Michigan State and Texas, Memphis went 56-for-71 from the line for an impressive 79% charity shot percentage. Given the talent of both of these teams, I believe Memphis will need another solid free throw shooting performance if they are going to edge out UCLA and earn a spot in the final. Despite Memphis’ talent and athleticism, I believe that UCLA will be able to pull off a narrow victory.