Final Four Viewing Guide: Four Things to Watch

Defense got them here, but offense will decide the champion

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Mar 29, 2012  |  Updated 3:54 PM CDT
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March Madness: Crazy Fans, Coaches, Action

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Judging from the winds blowing across the country, this weekend's Final Four should actually be called Kentucky and the two teams fighting to lose to Kentucky on Monday night.

It's hard to argue with that evaluation. This year's tournament has featured 67 teams playing your garden variety college basketball and one team playing something at a higher level. It's not the first time a tournament has played out this way and, contrary to that conventional wisdom, the dominant team doesn't always see it through.

We kick off our look at four things to keep in mind during Saturday's games with a reason why this might not be the year John Calipari breaks through the glass ceiling.

1. It's hard to imagine that the selection committee thought about the possibility of a Louisville-Kentucky matchup, but things worked out awfully well on that front. The air of inevitability around Kentucky feels less stifling right now because they are facing their geographical rivals instead of another team that looks intimidated just being on the same court with the Wildcats. That doesn't mean we love Louisville's chances -- Calipari's latest band of pre-professionals are untouchable in the talent department -- but we'll take our chances with a team playing for a prize beyond a trip in the finals.

2. Here's an early tip for filling out next year's pool: Put the Big East tournament champion deep into the dance. For the second straight year, a middling team from the country's best conference has turned a big run at Madison Square Garden into a trip to the Final Four. Louisville doesn't have a Kemba Walker-sized talent leading them, but they have the confidence of running off eight straight wins against top competion. That might not be enough to beat Kentucky, although we're not counting out another Russ Smith explosion, but it's enough to know you can't write them off.

3. Saturday's most important individual matchup is going to be Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor against Ohio State's Aaron Craft. Taylor is crucial to the Jayhawks' attack because he needs to feed their inside players to generate points against the smaller Buckeyes. He's certainly capable of doing that, but he's also capable of self-destructing under an avalanche of turnovers, which brings us to Craft. He's got an uncanny knack of creating them: He forced 10 against Cincinnati in the Sweet 16, and if he takes Taylor out of the game then the Jayhawks are sure to follow.

4. If you've watched the tournament thus far, you've probably noticed one theme connecting everything that's happened to this point. Defense wins. The most efficient defensive teams advanced from all four regions and that leads us to believe that offense is going to be the deciding factor in the Final Four.

Stay with us here.

Since all of these teams can defend the basket at a very high level, the winners are going to be the ones with the offenses that can adapt most readily to the circumstances. That's bad news for Louisville, which has the best defense by a slim margin and the worst offense by a wide margin, and good news for the deep, versatile Wildcats. 

The other matchup is harder to figure. Kansas and Ohio State are fairly well matched on both ends of the court. They are even close in statistics like most points after time outs, a key stat in games as broken up with pauses for commercials as these. Ohio State's just a little bit better at everything, though, and that should be enough to steer them through.

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