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Monday, March 27, 2006

FINAL FOUR

Picking the Final Four is so easy. All you needed was 2 teams from the same major conference, throw in a mid-major, and add a regular season major conference champion. Even with that criteria, there's no way you came up with the right 4 teams. Your two teams from the same conference? I bet they come from the Big East, ACC, Big XII, or the Big Ten. Everyone said the SEC was having a down year, and while its not extreme to have either Florida or LSU in the Final Four, the chances are slim you would have picked both to fill this criteria. Your regular season power conference champ? While you can have a legit claim if you say you had UCLA in the Final Four, there's a good chance they wouldn't be one of the top 4 teams you chose to fill that section of the criteria. And as for the mid-major? Outside of Gonzaga, there was no real team that seemed to be able to fill this criteria. But even if you were to take a chance on another mid-major, I bet you Wichita St., George Washington or even UW-Milwaukee would have made your Final Four before George Mason. But all of these surprises are what make this the greatest sporting event in the world. Sure you would love to win your pool, or see the clash of perennial powerhouses like UCONN, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan St., or UNC. But sometimes that's not the way it shakes out. And this Final Four is proving that with each passing year, the "lower level" conferences are making up ground on their more high profile opponents. Maybe the new age limit in the NBA will tip the scales back in favor of the major conferences, with high profile recruits staying a little longer, but only time will tell us if that's the case. Right now, the world of college hoops is flat. When not a single #1 seed makes the Final Four, that should be enough evidence to prove that no matter the conference, no matter the ranking, any team can lose to any other team on any given night. So while the ratings may be down a bit due to high profile teams taking a dive, this tournament has provided the most excitement than any in the past. Hopefully the last 3 games can live up to the hype. So let's take a look...

Final Four Matchups

(4) LSU vs (2) UCLA
UCLA had one of the ugliest wins in recent tourney memory to get in the Final Four against Memphis. LSU meanwhile, has played two great games back-to-back against two worthy teams in Duke and Texas. The Bruins have been winning by playing lockdown defense, the style Ben Howland brought to the Pac-10 from the Big East. They will finally run into a team they truly can't match up against. While some people thought the Memphis Tigers were too athletic for UCLA, even they don't have the athleticism of LSU. Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis present major matchup problems. UCLA 7-footer Ryan Hollins has had a breakout tournament to compliment Luc Richard Mbah a Moute down low, but if Shelden Williams, PJ Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge had problems with LSU down low, it doesn't look good for the Bruins. LSU is just too athletic, and they will be able to answer the defensive pressure of UCLA with their own tenacious ball-hawking style. It's been a great run for the Bruins, but if LSU can continue to out jump and out hustle people, they should be the ones emerging to play for the National Title.

(3) Florida vs (11) George Mason
Lord knows I would love to see George Mason win this game, but even after seeing them beat Michigan St., UNC, Wichita St. and UCONN (in perhaps the tourney's greatest all-time upset) to get here, I just can't imagine them taking out yet another power. Now granted I didn't see them beating any of the teams I just mentioned either, and its clear they were an underrated team, but they still have slay yet another Goliath. It's also surprising to find this young Florida squad in the Final Four. While not nearly as shocking as the Patriot's run, many thought the Gators were just too young to sustain a run deep into the tourney. They have been able to do it with a balanced attack led by Taurean Green, Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey in the backcourt, and of course the breakout play of Joakim Noah and Al Horford in the frontcourt. They bring so many weapons to the table that it will be tough for Jai Lewis, Tony Skinn, Folarin Campbell, Will Thomas and Lamar Butler all to keep pace. But this is the same George Mason team that knocked off the deepest team in the country in the UCONN Huskies while getting only 3 points and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes from its bench. So George Mason has the starting 5 to hang with any team in the nation. The question is, will their lack of depth finally catch up with them? I hope not, but it seems inevitable. If they do somehow find a way to pull this one out, I think they will be nearly impossible to beat in the Finals. But again, I'm going to pick against them. Hey, it's worked for them so far, so maybe more doubters will bring them to even greater heights.

Predictions
It definitely wouldn't be a bad thing to see an all SEC final. It's great when teams see each other during the year and get to settle their rivalry on the greatest stage the game has to offer. That being said, it would be greater if George Mason were to make the finals as both a "mid-major" team and an 11 seed. But both SEC teams look to be overwhelming for both their national semifinal opponents. Therefore, although I truly would love to see the George Mason Patriots win the whole tournament, my brain is telling me that isn't going to happen. Here they are...

National Semifinal

Florida 76 George Mason 73

LSU 67 UCLA 60

National Championship

Florida 74 LSU 70

So there you have it. In a week the tournament will be over, and at that time i believe the Florida Gators will be your National Champ. Hopefully the last three games will be a great ending to what has truly been an outstanding tournament. Next week there will be a recap of the Final Four to go along with news from Major League Baseball, the NBA and any other important happenings in the sports world (most notably what Prince did to Carlos Boozer's house).

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