Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 1:21 PM
It’s funny. You’d expect that a Final Four featuring so many power programs would have the media buzzing with excitement. Instead, you’re hearing too much “nobody can beat Kentucky” sentiment from the national press and even many people here in Las Vegas.
Let me tell you something. Everyone was saying that about the New England Patriots the year they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. Then, they were saying it again a couple of years later when the New England Patriots couldn’t even get past the New York Jets in their first playoff game.
Or, everyone was saying that about the Miami Heat last year after they put LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on the floor. Or, everyone in baseball was either saying that about the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, or even the Philadelphia Phillies last year. Favorites have an advantage, but few are good enough to be SURE THINGS when battling other elite teams in their sport.
Keep that in mind as you handicap this weekend’s action. Kentucky may well be destined to win this year…and hats off to them if they do. They work very hard on both ends of the floor. It would certainly be a well-deserved championship if the Wildcats cut down the nets. Just remember that Louisville, Ohio State, and Kansas aren’t longshot underdogs who are going to be awed by the atmosphere. Big time coaches…big time programs…hopefully some great basketball for all of us to enjoy.
Here are some tips from my College of Advanced Handicapping for Final Four Weekend:
*You already know to look closely at offensive playmakers. I’m not going to spend a paragraph on that. With this group, pay special attention to DEFENSIVE playmakers! That’s what’s really helped set these teams apart from the field this month. Who can block a big shot? Which guards are going to get steals or create bad passes? Who can have an impact while staying out of trouble? There’s nothing near a soft defense in this bunch. It’s conceivable that all three games (semifinals and the final) will be determined by a defensive stud making a play rather than an offense stud scoring. Or, it’s possible Kentucky covers two games as favorites because they’re making so many plays on both sides of the floor. I can’t emphasize this enough with these particular teams…focus on DEFENSIVE playmakers.
*Be sure you spend some time looking at the benches of all four teams. This could be a brutal weekend where at least one of Saturday’s winners will have trouble playing at a peak again on Monday Night. This could also be a weekend where the referees call a lot of fouls because we have physically aggressive teams. If the benches matter, who does that favor? Do you know? You need to know before making any final decisions.
*We’re blessed this year to have both Saturday semifinals acting as rematches from earlier in the season. Be sure you read the game accounts and the boxscore stats from Louisville at Kentucky and Ohio State at Kansas from pre-conference action. Remember to account for the fact that Jared Sullinger missed the Kansas game for Ohio State. What were the coaches saying in their postgame accounts? What does the boxscore say about how each team was prioritizing their attacks?
*What’s also great about this year’s group is that all four are relatively battle tested against top competition. They gave themselves pre-conference challenges, and then they played in tough conferences. What happened when these teams took the floor against ANY respected seed in the Big Dance? In other words:
What did KANSAS do against the likes of Missouri and Baylor in league play, and in their biggest non-conference games (including earlier rounds in the Dance)?
What did OHIO STATE do against the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana, and in their biggest non-conference games.
What did LOUISVILLE do against the likes of Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, and in their biggest non-conference games. Hey, Ohio State played Cincinnati in the Dance, while Louisville played them in the Big East Finals. You’ll start to see some overlap like that amidst the quality opposition that will help you see how these four may rank against each other.
What did KENTUCKY do against the likes of Florida and Vanderbilt in the SEC, and in their biggest non-conference games?
Forget about full season records. What did each team do vs. their 10 toughest opponents? And, what do THOSE performances say about what might happen this weekend (remember to look at Over/Under tendencies too!).
I can’t tell you who I’ll be picking in Saturday’s action, or in Monday Night’s college season finale. I hope today’s tips will help you do-it-yourselfers make informed decisions. If you’d like to keep riding my hot college hoops streak, my selections will be available for credit card purchase here at this very website on game days.
Thanks again to all of you regulars who are with us twice a week for these installments from my College of Advanced Handicapping. I’ll be back again early next week to talk about either Major League Baseball or the NBA. Those will be the two sports of main focus for the coming weeks. I can tell you, they’ve always been two of my favorite sports to handicap because of the busy day-to-day schedules. See you then. Enjoy Final Four weekend!