Final Four 2012: Guaranteed Winners and Losers

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2012

John Calipari has his Kentucky Wildcats playing well beyond their years.
John Calipari has his Kentucky Wildcats playing well beyond their years.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The 2012 NCAA tournament field has been whittled down to four teams. These four teams will battle for a national championship berth in New Orleans next weekend.

Kentucky, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, defeated Baylor in the Elite Eight to earn its Final Four berth.

The Wildcats will play the most unlikely Final Four team, the Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals knocked off Florida in exciting fashion to continue their unlikely run.

On the other side, Ohio State knocked off No. 1 seed Syracuse to earn its first Final Four berth since 2007. The Buckeyes will face Kansas, which defeated No. 1 seed North Carolina for the right to fight for NCAA supremacy.

The matchups are set. It is time for me to tell you who is heading to the title game and why.

Kentucky vs. Louisville

The Battle of the Bluegrass has commenced 43 times, but never with a national championship berth on the line. A Final Four matchup is always a dramatic occasion, but the added rivalry will make the tension palpable.

On paper, the Wildcats should win this game decisively. Their dominance was obvious during the regular season. That has not changed in the NCAA tournament.

Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones form one of the best frontcourts in the nation. All three are superb athletes and give maximum effort on both ends of the floor.

The Cardinals will not have an answer for the three Kentucky forwards athletically. Their only hope is to slide their feet, keep penetration at a minimum and hope the Wildcats are not knocking down open jumpers.

Kentucky's backcourt has been stable, but not as good as its front line. Doron Lamb is a dangerous shooter, but Marquis Teague is iffy at the point. Teague has struggled with turnovers and is not a major offensive threat.

Louisville must chop this game up and force Kentucky to play in the half court. Kentucky loves to run out on offense and create turnovers on defense.

Louisville point guard Peyton Siva must orchestrate the Cardinals offense and take care of the basketball. Slow and steady wins the race if you are the Cardinals. Use the shot clock, take good shots and find the open teammate.

Defensively, the Cardinals must clog the paint and keep Kentucky out of the lane. Gorgui Dieng has been an intimidating presence so far this tournament. He will need to be that and more for the Cardinals to grab a victory.

Rick Pitino needs his team to knock down open perimeter shots and force Kentucky to play its style if he wants to knock off his former team.

I do not see it happening. Kentucky has an incredible swagger about it right now. The Wildcats play with an edge, unlike most young teams, on both ends of the floor.

Thomas Robinson has been excessively dominant throughout the 2012 season.
Thomas Robinson has been excessively dominant throughout the 2012 season.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Cardinals will keep it close, but Kentucky pulls away in the last seven minutes.

Kentucky wins, 68-57

Ohio State vs. Kansas

The Ohio State Buckeyes and Kansas Jayhawks will battle in a tightly contested game. Both teams rely on a dominant interior player and team defense.

The Buckeyes will run their offense through Jared Sullinger. Sullinger is the ultimate space-eater. If he receives the ball with one foot in the paint, he will score. Once he gets the rock, he has a feathery shooting touch extending out to the perimeter.

Sullinger will meet his match against the Jayhawks.

Thomas Robinson was arguably the best player in college basketball this season. He is bigger and quicker than Sullinger in the post. Robinson's strength will keep Sullinger from establishing position and controlling the low block.

The Jayhawks also have seven-footer Jeff Withey, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Withey does not pack a punch on offense, but his height is a constant bother to opposing big men.

Ohio State will need Deshaun Thomas and William Buford to turn in big games. Thomas has enjoyed a wonderful tournament but has lapses. He loves to face up but tends to settle for too many jumpers.

Buford is the senior leader for coach Thad Matta. If Buford and point guard Aaron Craft are knocking down shots, the Buckeyes are tough to beat.

Kansas' defensive pressure will have to force Ohio State to shoot from the outside if it wants to win. The Buckeyes have quality marksmen, but their consistency is not enough to win a game by itself.

Sullinger is an animal down low, but Robinson, Withey and Kevin Young will keep his presence at bay. The Jayhawks rotate very quickly and will force anyone else to beat them.

The Jayhawks will use their pressure defense and fleet transition game to win this battle and head to the title game.

Kansas wins, 64-60