Atlantic Coast Conference

The Final Four That We Deserve

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Sports fans, your prayers have been answered. As the South Regional wrapped up on Sunday night, the Duke Blue Devils became the final piece of the puzzle in what is shaping up to be a Final Four for the ages. Duke, led by the imitable Coach K, joins Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Michigan State in Indianapolis next weekend, where the national champion will be crowned in the house that Peyton built.

None of the four got to Indy easily, as each team passed their own tests in their respective regional. Kentucky, the prohibitive favorite, put out the plucky Notre Dame Fighting Irish, only able to exhale when ND’s final shot clanked off the rim in the waning seconds. Wisconsin took Arizona’s best punch early on, but were able to stay far enough out in front to never feel threatened on their way to winning the West. Duke led early and often, and put the defensive clamps on an explosive Gonzaga offense in the games final minutes to win going away. Michigan State, the quartet’s biggest surprise, rose to the occasion in overtime, never trailing in the extra period to take out the Louisville Cardinals.

The Final Four this year has a little more flare than it has in years past. Missing is the now expected “Cinderella” team, (I know Michigan State is a 7 seed, but do we REALLY want to call any Tom Izzo-led team a “Cinderella?) The Final Four is made up of three of college basketball’s blue bloods, Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan State. These three programs alone account for 42 Final Four appearances, and 14 national championships. Not to be left out, Wisconsin is making their fourth Final Four all time, but second consecutive trip. The way Bo Ryan has this program running, expect the Badgers to be included in the blue blood conversation much sooner than later. For as much fun as it to see the upstart programs crash the party on the games biggest stage, there is something special about seeing college basketball’s marquee names go at it for the right to cut down the nets.

What may be more interesting than the game being played on the court is the game being played on the benches, as this Final Four features arguably college basketball’s four best coaches right now. John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Bo Ryan, and Tom Izzo all know how to win, and win big. The in-game adjustments, the “game within the game,” will be just as critical as the play on the court, and the quick turnaround from Saturday to Monday will really show the game-planning skills of each coach and their respective staffs. Whoever can make the biggest adjustments will have a great advantage going forward to the championship game.

Besides the coaches, players, and pedigree featured in this years Final Four, what will truly make it stand out above the rest are the story lines. Will anyone be able to finally unseat Kentucky? If Saturday night’s game was any indication, Notre Dame may have finally shown the formula to take down Big Blue, coming up just short in the waning seconds. The question rises: what happens if a team has the right amount of talent to carry it out? Nothing personal against the Irish, but they don’t have the roster, or the star power, quite like the Badgers, Spartans, or Blue Devils. What really draws my attention this year is the pair of rematches that we will all be treated to. Nobody will soon forget Wisconsin and Kentucky’s epic bout in last year’s Final Four, a game that ended on an Aaron Harrison buzzer-beater. Both teams bring back more talented squads, and you better believe Wisconsin is chomping at the bit to end Kentucky’s perfect season and title dreams, just like UK did the year prior. On the other side of the bracket, we have a rematch from a game played earlier this season, as Duke beat Michigan State handily 81-71 in November. November is what seems like an entire season ago, and now that Sparty is surging, will the result be any different?

As far as predictions go, it’s so hard to bet against the Wildcats. What they have been able to accomplish this year is nothing short of remarkable. Coach Calipari has his team full of McDonalds All-Americans and Future NBA players playing unselfish, defense-first basketball, and that is the winning formula. But, if any team left is built to handle Kentucky’s size and guard play, it is the Wisconsin Badgers, whose slow, methodical style of play may be enough to squeeze the life out of Kentucky if they make careless mistakes. I firmly believe the winner of that game will be crowned your national champions, defeating Duke on Monday night in Indy. As much as I hate to admit it, I expect Kentucky to be cutting down the nets in one weeks time. But, expect the unexpected, much crazier things have happened in the games final weekend.

Buckle up.

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