For the first time since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four. All the brackets, all the coverage, all the hype, and it comes down to this weekend in San Antonio. This tournament has been called one of the greatest events, if not the greatest, in all of sports, and by all accounts it has lived up to the hype.
This tournament is predicated on upsets, Cinderellas, last-second buzzer-beaters and players who went from nobodies to somebodies overnight.
People gravitate to bars to root against Duke, while Cornell alumni travel to watch their team in the tournament for the very first time.
While it’s been dominated by big-time programs, one mid-major stole the show, as Davidson, which bounced seventh, second and third seeds before finally being ousted by a very talented Kansas squad, made a top-heavy field captivating for the entire country. Stephen Curry played out of his mind, looking like Michael Jordan down the stretch of games, and carried his team on his back until it finally gave.
The wave Davidson rode is exactly why March will forever be a special time of year. While Davidson may be remembered for a long time, though, they don’t make trophies for getting knocked out in the Elite Eight.
It’s all about the four No. 1s come Saturday. With UCLA, Memphis, North Carolina and Kansas still standing, it’s hard to dispute the immense talent left.
Let’s start with the UCLA-Memphis match-up. Both teams have been at the forefront of the polls this entire season, and while both have consistently dominated, their styles of play couldn’t be any more different.
The Memphis Tigers are college basketball’s version of the Golden State Warriors. They’ve never seen a shot they didn’t like, can run with the best of them and every player in the rotation can jump out the gym.
They play with a chip on their shoulder, especially after shellacking Texas by 18, and feel they can beat anyone. One problem: free throws. Despite an uncharacteristically unconscious performance in their most recent game, this has been Memphis’ only weakness all season, and against a defensive juggernaut like UCLA, will spell the end.
UCLA will force Memphis to slow it down, play a low-scoring game and overpower inside with Kevin Love. The Tigers haven’t seen a guy with this much versatility all season.
Love is a superstar, an unstoppable 19-year-old on a mission to win the championship, and will go down as one of the greatest one-and-done players in NCAA history.
Prediction: UCLA 65, Memphis 63
Now to Kansas-North Carolina, a game that will re-unite two of the most storied programs in college basketball history.
Roy Williams, North Carolina’s head coach, will try to beat a team he coached for 15 years.
Both teams play a similar style, like to get up the floor and push the basketball. Each possesses several future NBA players and has the ability to score massive amounts of points in short periods of time.
North Carolina is led by two-time All-American and Player of the Year candidate Tyler Hansbrough. He has it all: toughness, athleticism and more heart than most teams combined.
But Kansas has athletic big men and brings a potential NBA lottery pick in Sasha Kaun off the bench. North Carolina only goes as far as Hansbrough takes it, and Kansas has what it takes to contain him.
The X-factor will be Brandon Rush. If he’s on, and Kansas contains Hansbrough, the game’s over.
Prediction: Kansas 85, North Carolina 78
UCLA is entering its third Final Four in as many years, and it’s finally the Bruins’ time to cut down the nets. They have experience on their side, and an understanding of what it takes to complete the job.
If it weren’t for a once-in-a-generation Florida team, UCLA could be going for its third-straight national championship.
UCLA has too much defense, too much experience, and most importantly, too much Love not to be national champions.
As Dickie V would say, “UCLA all the way, BABY!”
John Middlekauff is an agribusiness senior and a Mustang Daily sports columnist.