It is only fitting that in a year filled with upsets and surprises, something expected should happen. Well, the Final Four can attest to that, displaying all four No. 1 seeds in the tournament that have overcome those surprises better than any other team. North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas and Memphis have not necessarily shocked the nation, but have certainly turned heads in their quests for the national championship.
UCLA has made the Final Four for the third straight year — a remarkable feat for any team. North Carolina opened the season as the top seed and flirted with being No. 1 all year long before ending the season where it began. Kansas was one of the last undefeated teams in the country and stayed atop the strong Big 12 throughout the season. Memphis went undefeated in Conference USA and had only one loss to No. 2 Tennessee on their schedule.
Nevertheless, some are surprised at the outcome of the tournament so far, and that is a valid argument — for the first time in NCAA history, all four top seeds reached the Final Four. But is that really surprising? Well, if you look at history, yes. Looking at the pool of teams this year, though, it’s hard to argue that any of the remaining teams do not deserve to be in the Final Four.
When you look at all the rosters left, your jaw will simply drop at the level of talent that these teams boast. There were no upsets for any of these teams — they all played as well as they did all season long.
UCLA has freshman star Kevin Love leading the way offensively, and the Bruins also have established leaders like Josh Shipp and Darren Collison.
Kansas has five players who average more than nine points per game, including sharpshooters Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers.
Memphis boasts the best record in the country and has players like Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts to pave the way for the Tigers’ success.
Finally, North Carolina has Player of the Year candidate Tyler Hansbrough as a team leader and offensive machine. Beyond that, they have Ty Lawson alongside Hansbrough to add on to the scoring attack.
Aside from the players, look at the coaches. John Calipari of Memphis, Ben Howland of UCLA, Bill Self of Kansas and Roy Williams of North Carolina have all established their organizations as among the best in the country.
So now that the matchups are set, who will be able to play in the championship game? Every team has talented rosters, and every team is well-coached. So what will push a team over the top?
In the Memphis-UCLA match, the game will be decided by the two teams’ post play. With the Bruins’ Kevin Love dominating every team in the tournament so far, Memphis forward Robert Dozier will have to do his best to contain the freshman center. If Love is not contained, then the Bruins will dominate the key on offense and defense, and the Tigers will have no chance to fight back with the strong inside presence.
On the other hand, John Calipari’s Tigers are one of the most athletic teams, and everyone in their starting lineup is capable of scoring big. That being said, UCLA will have to play strong team defense against Memphis in order to win the game.
When all is said and done, UCLA’s inside presence will be too much for Memphis to handle. Memphis can compete with some of the most athletic teams in the country, but the Bruins’ size and inside presence will be enough for UCLA to make it to the national championship game.
When North Carolina takes on Kansas, the Tar Heels will be forced to respect Kansas’ perimeter shooting. Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers will light up the court beyond the 3-point line if the Tar Heels’ defense isn’t preventing Rush and Chalmers from getting open looks. Furthermore, what will make Kansas so difficult for North Carolina to guard is that any one of its starters can get the job done offensively.
Kansas will have to deal with a completely healthy Tar Heels team. Now with Lawson at full strength along with Hansbrough, North Carolina boasts a repertoire that features threats from both the inside and outside. Not to mention guard Wayne Ellington averages 16.6 points per game and will have to be guarded tightly as well.
With North Carolina completely healthy, it is on paper the best team in the nation. Furthermore, with Roy Williams as their coach, the Tar Heels should be able to stop Kansas in its tracks. UNC dominated nearly every team they have played in the tournament, and though that probably will not be the case with Kansas, North Carolina has a clear advantage over the Jayhawks.
Regardless, since all the teams in the Final Four have been the best throughout the course of the season, these picks should be taken with a grain of salt. All at No. 1 seeds, any of these rosters has a good chance to win.