For the first time in NCAA Tournament history, all four number one seeds advanced to the final four. While most are commending the selection committee for their brilliant seeding this year, I view the glass as half empty. This is the only time since 1985 (first year with 64 teams) that the selection committee got it right. The brackets are supposed to protect the best teams in the country and allow them the easiest route to the Final Four. Shouldn’t all number one seeds represent the Final Four more often? After three sentences, I now view the glass as half full. This is the beauty of the single-elimination NCAA Tournament. Any team can catch a hot hand and send the loser packing. In a five-game or seven-game series, the better team almost always prevails.
The Philadelphia 76ers would have won the NBA Championship in 2001 if the Finals were only one game, but they played a seven-game series and the Lakers won the next four. The Lakers were clearly the better team. In that same year, Jamaal Tinsley’s number two seed Iowa State Cyclones (25-6) lost to the number 15 seed Hampton Pirates in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. And that was it. Iowa State went home and Hampton advanced. That is the beauty of this tournament. One and done. Would Iowa State have won in a five or seven-game series? Most likely, but college teams need to out-play, out-hustle, out-gut, and play their best in every single game or they’re going home. This is what makes the 2008 NCAA Tournament so special. The four best teams in the country all season long did out-play, out-hustle, and out-gut every opponent and they are the lone teams left standing. Each team is playing at their best with only three more games left to play. Furthermore, there is no clear-cut favorite which makes this one of the most anticipated Final Fours in tournament history.
Let’s take a look at who is left.
East regional winner: North Carolina Tar Heels
They are the overall number one seed in the tournament and it’s no surprise to see them in the final four. Their lineup is stacked and their bench could’ve probably formed another team to play in the tournament. They are led by All-American and ESPN.com Player Of The Year Tyler Hansbrough. He is the heart and soul of this team with an endless motor. In their victory over Louisville it was Hansbrough who scored seven straight points when Louisville tied the game at 59. And it was Hansbrough who made consecutive two-point jumpers that helped his team withstand the Cardinals comeback when they had cut the lead to five with three minuets left to play. Hansbrough is leading his team with 21 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. With Hansbrough and teammates Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington (both averaging 15 points per game in the tournament) all possibly leaving next year for the NBA, this could be their last shot at a National Championship.
Midwest regional winner: Kansas Jayhawks
They ended Stephen Curry and Davidson’s Cinderella run. It wasn’t easy, but in a balanced effort led by center Sasha Kaun’s (off the bench) perfect effort from the field going 6-6 for 13 points and six rebounds the Jayhawks advanced to the final four for the first time under coach Bill Self. Kansas is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson have combined for 18 steals in the tournament and the Kansas team has held their opponents to 57 points per game. Chalmers also leads his team in scoring averaging 15 points per game and junior Brandon Rush is averaging 14.5 a game. The Jayhawks are going to play against their former coach, Roy Williams, next weekend in San Antonio. Williams started coaching Kansas in 1988 until he left for UNC in 2003. This only adds to the drama of a matchup that already has a storied history.
West regional winner: UCLA Bruins
The Bruins advanced to their third straight final four with their convincing victory over Xavier on Saturday 76-57. The Bruins are led by freshman Kevin Love who probably is the best player in the country. The 6-10 center understands the importance of having an inside prescence and plays effectively with his back to the basket. He can score, pass, and rebound with the best of them. Love is averaging 21.8 points (61% shooting) and 11 rebounds per game. Guards Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison have combined for 94 points to help support their big man’s dominance. Similar to UNC, UCLA’s window for the National Championship could be getting shut after with Love, Westbrook, and Collison all considered possibilities for the NBA draft next season.
South regional winner: Memphis Tigers
Despite one game where they had trouble on the free throw line (Mississippi State) the Tigers have completely dominated their opponents in the tournament. Their most impressive win was their 85-67 victory over Texas yesterday in front of almost 30,000 Longhorn fans. They jumped out early and never looked back behind their star-studded backcourt featuring Chris Douglas-Roberts (25 points) and freshman Derek Rose (21 points). Rose could be one of the top three picks in this years NBA draft. This Memphis team will give any one of the other teams left serious matchup problems. Douglas-Roberts (6-7), Rose (6-3) and Antonio Anderson (6-6) are three big guards. And forwards Robert Dozier (6-9), Joey Dorsey (6-9), and Shawn Tagger (6-10, off the bench) are huge bodies that take up space in the paint. This is the reason that Memphis has only lost one game this season and this is the reason that Kevin Love and UCLA face their biggest task in San Antonio next weekend.