March Madness: Final Four
March Madness ticks towards April as the participants in the NCAA Final Four were yesterday confirmed.
One game is a grudge match between teams that know each other all too well. The other is a rare rematch between virtual strangers.
First up this Saturday are Kentucky v Louisville at 6pm EST, followed by Ohio State v Kansas at 8:49 EST.
On Saturday, Kentucky will play Louisville in an intrastate rivalry that puts Cardinals coach Rick Pitino against the school he once coached, then later alienated by returning to the Bluegrass to lead its archrival.
In the other semi-final, it will be Ohio State and Kansas, meeting for only the ninth time in their history but for the second time this season. The Jayhawks won the first game 78-67 in Lawrence, Kan, back on Dec. 10. It was the first time the teams had met since 2000.
The winners will play for the national title on April 2. Kentucky already has seven national titles but none since 1998, the year after Pitino left. Kansas has three championships, Louisville has two and Ohio State, better known as a football power, won its lone title in 1960 and is making its third trip to the Final Four since 1999.
Absent from this year’s ultimate hoops weekend, taking place at the Superdome in New Orleans, are the long shots and little guys who have made March Madness so special over the years. Although there are no Butlers or VCUs, there are plenty of good stories to tell. That list starts with Pitino, and his old school.
It was Pitino who restored Kentucky to its former greatness when he arrived there in 1989 and the Wildcat program was coming off the sting of NCAA violations. Pitino took the program to three Final Fours and won one championship, but left in 1997 to take a second shot at the NBA, where he had previously tried and failed with the Knicks.
He didn’t fare much better in four seasons with the Boston Celtics, and when the call back to the college game came, it came from Louisville, located only 70 miles up the road from Lexington and very much in the crosshairs of Kentucky fans.
How they made it this far:
Louisville: The Cardinals didn’t have an easy road to New Orleans. But they earned the opportunity with wins over Davidson, New Mexico, Michigan State and Florida. During their current eight-game winning streak, five of their opponents have failed to record more than 56 points.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes defeated Loyola (Md.), Gonzaga, Cincinnati and Syracuse. The Buckeyes scored at least 73 points in each of those four victories.
Kentucky: The Wildcats defeated Western Kentucky, Iowa State, Indiana and Baylor to earn their second trip to the Final Four under coach Calipari. They’ve defeated each NCAA tournament opponent by double-digits, the first team to do that since the 2009 champs from UNC.
Kansas: The Jayhawks secured wins over Detroit, Purdue, North Carolina State and North Carolina to reach the Final Four. The Jayhawks defeated the Boilermakers and Wolfpack by three points each.
Have a look at our other NCAA articles: