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2012 Final Four Preview: Kentucky vs. Louisville, Ohio State vs. Kansas

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And then there were four. Finally!

After 346 Division I teams started the season with dreams and aspirations of being the best, we’re down to four teams who still go to bed at night with thoughts of cutting the nets and being the best.

Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville.

Each has had to overcome adversity in various stages. Ohio State needed to pick itself up from last years tough loss. Kansas was good, but hadn’t been living up to potential all season. Kentucky has been dominant, but a lackluster SEC tournament raised some doubts. Louisville wasn’t able to win the big games and hasn’t had the big name players that other teams have. Yet, here they all stand. Winners of at least four straight, hoping to make it six and enjoy their one shining moment.

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The great part of college basketball, what separates it from pro sports is the fanaticism of it all. The players change on a rotating basis, but the fans stay loyal. Kentucky is looking in to doing away with “Senior Night” and dubbing it “Sophomore Night” to celebrate those players who stay two long years in Lexington. With perhaps the most religious of fans, it’s hard to see why they would want to leave the big blue nation so quick. The Civil War of the Commonwealth will bring people out from all cornerss of the state. It will be a truly Red vs. Blue battle. Even more heated then Republicans vs. Democrats, at least for a few months. Kansas has its Rock Chalk Jayhawk following and Ohio State will represent the “O – H…. I – O” chant to its max.  College basketball is truly about the fans, and always will be.

College fans are derived from former students that went to the schools and relive days of when they camped out for a big game, when they were there the day <insert name here> hit the winning shot to beat <insert team here>. If they weren’t at the game, they were with their dorm friends watching and cheering as if they were in the arena. Making the tournament helps relive that passion and energy that they once knew in their youth. Proudly wearing an old college sweater or maybe a tie with school colors. The tournament brings those memories and smiles to the forefront. Facebook pictures and messages rekindle friendships that have long gone ignored. A quick post “hey we’re back again, remember when….” kick starts the conversation. Those were good times and now they’re back. Through the wonder of a simple game and school success. To the schools it means donations increase, merchandise sale go up, and interest in enrollment swell.

Kentucky vs. Louisville – Civil War in the Commonwealth

Kentucky was supposed to be here, Louisville was fortunate to make the sweet 16. Kentucky has the better players and this could be Coach John Calipari’s best coaching job since his days at UMass. He’s had the players in recent years, but never able to get over the hump. Two years ago, his all NBA rookie team was upset by West Virginia. Then last year he sent more players to the pro’s and was knocked out in the Final Four. On progression alone, Kentucky should be here and win at least one game. Led by All-Everything Anthony Davis, the Wildcats have balance all over the court. Front court/back court/bench support, they have it all. A resounding win over Baylor to get here, as good as Kentucky has been all season, they may be peaking at the right time.

All that goodness dies quickly if they can’t beat Louisville. Their long time rivals, the Cardinals are led by Coach Rick Pitino and guard Peyton Siva. They don’t have the big name players, they just have players. Running the same path that Connecticut did last year, the Cardinals have won 8 post season games in a row. Cruising to the Big East and now up against Kentucky, same as Uconn did. Question becomes if the two paths continue past Saturday night. It’s been 20 years since Kentucky had its hearts ripped out by Christian Laettner and Duke. Will it be retribution for Kentucky or former Kentucky, present Louisville coach Pitino?

Teams from the same state haven’t faced each other in the final four in 50 years. As intriguing as this game is for all of America, and college basketball, it’s resoundingly more in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Always vying to attention. Lexington vs. Louisville. Keeneland vs Churchill Downs, Blue vs. Red, Wildcats vs. Cardinals. Choose your side and may the best team win.

Ohio State vs. Kansas

In game 2 of the night, The Ohio State Buckeyes will face the Kansas Jayhawks. Teams with All America players who had all the potential to make here, have pulled things together and earned their spots. Ohio State is led by Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and a host of roll players took care of Syracuse. Sullinger was able to dominate the second half, as the Orange certainly missed Fab Melo down low. Two early fouls forced Sullinger to the bench, but the Buckeys held strong and were even at halftime. Sullinger and Ohio State was able to separate itself and hold on for the win.

Kansas might be the most unexpected team to be here since they had to get past North Carolina. UNC was viewed as the best threat to Kentucky, so Kansas was given minimal chances to get through the region even though they were the #2 seed. Then Kenyon Marshall broke a bone and the door opened wider. Led by Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawks are living up to their early season optimism and bringing respect to a perennial underachiever. Kansas has had great regular seasons since it’s national championship in 2008, but early exits have been a problem. Not this year, after close wins throughout, Kansas held the high powered TarHeels scoreless for the last 4 minutes of their regional final. While putting up 12 points of their own, the score didn’t tell the story of how competitive the game was. It did show that Kansas is good and shouldn’t be overlooked.

If you are still reviewing your brackets, than you’re better than most. With North Carolina now gone, Syracuse not getting there, and lets remember the feel good story of week 1 (depending on your perspective) with pair of #2 seeds eliminated. Only one top seed survived. Get the food delivered early as Kentucky vs. Louisville has the best storyline, but the second game looks to be more competitive. Upsets happen all the time. Round one through round six, you can have one bad game and lose five months of hard work. As well, you can stay hot and climb the ladder Monday Night. No matter what happens, there will be a great story to be written about it.

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