Final Four analysis

Final Four analysis

Final Four analysis & pick: Kansas vs. North Carolina
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Kansas vs. North Carolina

This could have very easily been Davidson versus North Carolina if Stephen Curry hadn’t gone cold at the end of his team's near-upset of the Kansas Jayhawks. Not to take anything away from Davidson’s impressive run to the Elite Eight (and a noteworthy 4-0 ATS record), but Kansas was a 9-point favorite in that game because they are a much better team on paper. They didn’t cover because they played a horrible offensive game.

If it weren’t for Sasha Kaun’s 6-for-6 performance off the bench, the Jayhawks would have been just 17-of-46 from the field against a Southern Conference team without much size or defensive presence. That may have been good enough to beat a 10-seed, but against North Carolina, there won’t be any room for error.

It’s hard to explain what happened to Kansas in the Davidson game because they're normally much better than that. They shot better than 50 percent in all their previous Tournament games and averaged 50.7 field-goal shooting throughout the season. The disturbing thought for Kansas backers is that the Jayhawks were bothered by the pressure of a tight contest on the grand stage of the Elite Eight. The more comforting explanation is that they just didn’t take Davidson as seriously as they should have.

I tend to think, with the layoff before the start of the Final Four, Kansas will be much more focused against Carolina. The Tar Heels are the only team left in the tournament that is perfect against the spread (Kansas blew its perfect ATS record against Davidson) and they’ve won their games by an average margin of nearly 25 points. It’s not likely that playing against Roy Williams (who quit as head coach in Lawrence to take over his alma mater at Chapel Hill) will offer any extra motivation for these kids, but it’s not likely they’ll need any for a Final Four matchup against North Carolina.

Against Louisville in the Elite Eight, the Tar Heels weren’t particularly good on defense, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for them. Stopping opponents hasn’t been a strength for this team all through the tournament (why bother when you can run the floor like they can?) They’ve allowed more than 70 points in all but one game but they’ve made up for it with a potent offense, including 83 points against a tough Louisville zone that allowed only 61.5 points per game through the season.

On the other hand, defense has been the Jayhawks’ strong point throughout the year and throughout tournament. Despite the narrow margin against Davidson, they still managed to hold one of the best shooting teams in the tournament to 38 percent from the field and less than 30 percent from three-point range. UNC runs a much different offensive system and presents a completely new set of problems – not the least of which is national Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough – but with the third-best field-goal defense in the nation, they at least have the potential to slow down the powder blue scoring machine.

And Carolina has struggled against well balanced teams. Kansas has the weapons to attack them from every position on the floor. Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson are big enough to bang inside with Hansbrough (and maybe even draw some fouls against the rarely-whistled forward) and Brandon Rush can also use his size and skill to score on the wing. Mario Chalmers (47.6 three-point percentage) provides the outside portion of Kansas’ inside-out game and Sasha Kaun has probably been the best sixth man in the Tournament thus far.

Kansas is one of only a few team in the country that can match up with UNC in the halfcourt and in transition. If they rise to the occasion (rather than succumbing to the pressure as they nearly did in the Elite Eight) the Jayhawks can take advantage of the slack Tar Heels defense and not only cover the points, but also score the upset and earn a place in the championship.

Pick: Kansas

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Re: Final Four analysis

Final Four analysis & pick: Memphis vs. UCLA
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Memphis vs. UCLA

Well, this is a bit of a surprise. After a season in which they couldn’t shake the doubters and second-guessers, the Memphis Tigers go into the Final Four laying chalk against UCLA, the pre-tournament favorite.

Before the tipoff of this year’s tourney, the UCLA Bruins were listed by Las Vegas oddsmakers at +450 to cut down the nets in San Antonio, while Memphis had the longest odds of any of the No. 1 seeds at +600. Despite a 33-1 record and a non-conference schedule that included eight Tournament teams, a lot of people thought Conference USA wasn’t an appropriate breeding ground for NCAA champions.

I guess after watching them dominate a Texas team that beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion earlier this year, a lot of bettors changed their minds (bettors can be so fickle). This line opened with Memphis at -1 (a pick ‘em at one Vegas sportsbook) but a flood of Memphis money forced bookies to jack the spread to -2 and even -2 ½ at some shops.

It’s not surprising that people have changed their minds about this team. Against Texas, it was finally evident that the size and length across the board on this Tigers roster will tip the scales in their direction against almost any team in the country. Texas had no shortage of talented players, especially in the backcourt, but with Chris Douglas-Roberts at 6-foot-6 and Derrick Rose at 6-foot-3, the Texas guards couldn’t seem to get a good look at the basket and ended up going 10-34 from the floor. As a team, the Longhorns shot 36.2 percent from field-goal range and 32.1 percent from beyond the arc.

But the Bruins match up much better with the Memphis guards. At 6-foot-5, Josh Shipp is nearly as big as Douglas-Roberts and Russell Westbrook also has decent size for a guard. Darren Collison (6-foot-1) still gives up a couple of inches to Rose, so you can probably expect a big game from the Tigers’ freshman, whose play will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. Rose, has taken advantage of size mismatches throughout the tournament and, in addition to his scoring output, has averaged six rebounds per game – not a contribution most teams would expect from a point guard.

Memphis also has some big men in the frontcourt, but against UCLA, it looks like they won’t have the advantage. Joey Dorsey (6-foot-9, 265 lbs) is usually able to outmuscle opponents in the paint, but against the 260-pound Kevin Love – probably the most skilled and athletic big man in the nation – he’ll have to worry about a lot more than fighting for position and wrangling rebounds. Although Dorsey is a good athlete, you have to give the edge to Love in that matchup.

Don’t be fooled. This will be a very different game from the one Memphis played with Texas. Although the Bruins lost to the Longhorns earlier this season, UCLA is a much more physical and balanced team and will be much more difficult to defend – particularly on the perimeter.

And then there’s the X-factor: Kevin Love. Dorsey is big enough to match up with the UCLA wunderkind, but when Love starts making fade-away jumpers and spin moves in the lane, Dorsey could find himself in foul trouble. Even if Dorsey manages to avoid fouls, UCLA will certainly try to get the ball in his hands as often as possible and he’s proven throughout this tournament that he’s more than equal to the challenge. If I had to choose between freshman phenoms that will take over this game, my money is on UCLA's big man.

Pick: UCLA

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