NCAA Tournament 2013: Ranking the 10 Final Four Matchups We Most Want to See
It was a feature editor's dream.
Cats v. Cards.
Calipari v. Pitino.
The "Brow v. History.
That was the scene last March when Kentucky met Louisville in New Orleans for a berth in the national championship game. And the on-court product didn't disappoint, with Pitino's Cardinals hanging tough until the closing minutes.
Naturally we can't expect a game of similar consequence in this year's Final Four, but he can hope.
If you're listening college basketball gods, let it be known that any of the following 10 games will do.
Procedural note: While this list isn't exclusive to likely games, we did try to keep it within the scope of possibility. No IUPUI-Qunnipiac-type matchups if you catch my drift.
The Pitch: Little schools, big dreams
Why We'd Watch: Not only is it refreshing to see two schools from outside the Power Six squaring off for a title-game bid, but Gonzaga-VCU presents a tantalizing contrast in styles. Mark Few's Bulldogs are an offensive powerhouse, anchored by the post play of 7' wig model Kelly Olynyk.
VCU, on the other hand, is known for its defense, specifically a brand/scheme/style known to the general public as "havoc." What is "havoc," you ask? Imagine five mutant badgers just released from their cages after having been purposefully starved for five days. Now imagine that the opposing player with the ball is a wounded chickadee. Also the badgers are on meth.
It's something like that.
Or if you prefer a more standard whiteboard breakdown, click here.
The Pitch: Marshall Henderson. Period. Space. Marshall Henderson Again. Period. Space. More Marshall Henderson.
Why We'd Watch: Ole Miss shooting guard/professional bro baiter Marshall Henderson is the most watchable college basketball player in America. Bar none.
Here are the basics: Henderson attempts about a dozen three-pointers each game. He reacts to all of his makes like he just scored backstage passes to see Poison circa 1987. His nickname is "White Chocolate" (always a good sign). Did I mention he shoots a lot? Like a lot a lot a lot.
Oregon fits into this equation for two reasons. First, Ducks forward Arsalan Kazemi is the Marshall Henderson of rebounding (not as sexy, I know, but still pretty amazing to watch). Second, Oregon, like Mississippi, is one of the nation's 40-fastest teams in adjusted tempo.
The Pitch: One-n'-Done-on-One
Why We'd Watch: UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and UNLV's Anthony Bennett are the best true freshmen in the country (at least as pure scorers), and each is the undisputed offensive focal point of his respective team. Basically it's 40 minutes of one-on-one between two 19-year-olds. Winner goes to the Wizards!
The Pitch: Points!
Why We'd Watch: We continue our game-within-the-game bend here with a showdown between Player of the Year front-runners Trey Burke (Michigan) and Doug McDermott (Creighton). Burke is a blur of a point guard with weapons on every side of him. McDermott is a do-it-all forward capable of scoring from anywhere between the restricted area and half court.
Plus, both teams rank among the top five in adjusted offensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. Points!
The Pitch: Gators Be Larkin
Why We'd Watch: Sunshine State rivalries get plenty of play in pigskin season, but a basketball showdown between Florida's finest would be just as entertaining.
Jim Laranaga's Miami squad is a defensive juggernaut, spearheaded by the tenacious backcourt combo of Durand Scott and Shane "Yes, His Dad Is Barry" Larkin. The Hurricanes have never advanced past the Sweet 16, giving this potential Final Four matchup major historical implications.
Then there's Billy Donovan's Gators, the big bad bullies of the Florida basketball scene. U of F has been obliterating its SEC foes behind seniors Kenny Boynton and Erick Murphy. Few teams, if any, strike a better balance between offense and defense, inside and out.
Could be the birth of a new rivalry, especially if Miami can pull the upset.
5. NC State-Duke
The Pitch: The Tobacco Road Less Taken
Why We'd Watch: With UNC struggling to stay relevant this season, the Tar Heel State spotlight has shifted southeast to the Raleigh-Durham corridor (I-70 for all you map geeks) where NC State and Duke are locked in a duel for the ACC crown.
NC State took round one with a home victory over the then-No. 1 Blue Devils on January 12. Duke gets a second run at the Wolfpack on February 7.
Then it's on to March, where ultimate bragging rights are settled. And it doesn't hurt that both squads know how to put the ball in the hoop.
The Pitch: A Farewell to Arms
Why We'd Watch: The Big East has spawned plenty of great rivalries over the years, but none better, or more thoroughly antagonistic, than the one between Syracuse and Georgetown. Dating back to the days when Big John stalked the Hoya sidelines, these two schools have epitomized the brawny brand of play that is Big East basketball. Warts and all.
I can't think of a more appropriate tribute to the greatest conference in college basketball history than a throwdown between these two old warriors.
The Pitch: Hoosier Heaven
Why We'd Watch: No state, not even Kansas, has a stronger connection to the mythology of modern basketball than Indiana. You know what I'm talking about: Hoosiers. Larry Legend. Rims nailed to old red farmhouses. All that schmaltz.
A Butler-Indiana Final Four wouldn't merely be a reprise of 2012's best regular-season game, it'd be a chance to wax poetic about cornfields and crewcuts and all the symbolic hullabaloo that makes newspaper columnists frothy with excitement. Rick Reilly, your typewriter awaits.
The Pitch: Pitino-Calipari, Electric Boogaloo
Why We'd Watch: I know we've already seen this one play out, but for sheer volume of storylines, there's still no better potential matchup.
Imagine if Kentucky, with all its untapped talent and youthful pep, went from the bubble to the Final Four. Imagine taking all the pressure that was on Calipari last year and swinging it right back into Pitino's lap. Imagine all the Ali-Frazier comparisons we could drum up, particularly given Ali's Louisville connection.
Of course it's never going to happen. Kentucky isn't nearly good enough.
But man would it be awesome...
The Pitch: Jalen's Revenge
Why We'd Watch: I don't know if it's the Fab 5 connection or what, but there's something about a young Michigan team taking on a senior-laden Duke squad that feels so...meaningful.
Not only that, but you have to love the potential of a Trey Burke-Mason Plumlee showdown. And the fact that both these teams can actually score the basketball. And the image of Glenn Robinson III spinning baseline and throwing down over Ryan Kelly. And that second image of C-Webb, Jalen and Juwan sitting court side, decked out in Maize and Blue.
OK, so maybe it is the Fab 5 connection.
Yeah. It's definitely the Fab 5 connection. I really liked that documentary.