Some believed this would be the maddest March ever and based on the seeds of the Final Four (11, 8, 4, 3), it’s pretty mad. Now what should we expect out of the unlikeliest of Final Fours? We’ve got the Top 10 storylines.
10. Jim Calhoun’s redemption
At the beginning of the season, no one’s reputation looked to be more damaged than Calhoun’s following a major NCAA investigation of his program. One newspaper article read: “The report sings the glowing praises of Calhoun’s nearly 40-year coaching career and practically absolves him of any wrongdoing. This takes spin doctoring to a whole new level.” Many thought UConn got a huge break without receiving a postseason ban and the Huskies made the most of it. Now sports writers aren’t so rough. The New York Times’ William C. Rhoden admitted, “In the world of sports, where winning cures a variety of ills, Calhoun, with a third N.C.A.A. championship, would find absolution in Houston.” It’s really that easy? Apparently.
9. 2010 Kentucky vs. 2011 Kentucky
The 2010 Kentucky squad was a Big Blue Machine that crushed everything in its path before losing in the Elite Eight to West Virginia. The 2011 team? It started 7-6 in SEC play and has two starters in Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins who were once afterthoughts in the program. People will argue all week that the 2010 team faltered because there wasn’t experienced leadership and that an all-freshmen team can’t win an NCAA title. Our take? UK’s leadership on this squad has certainly helped, but not as much as a very weak tournament field.
8. John Calipari: He’s baaaack
You knew Calipari would be back to the Final Four, but no one expected he’d do it with a team like this – especially considering how much talent was lost from last season’s team. He’s just the second coach to lead three different programs to the Final Four, so he’s doing something right. Now we can start all the vacated jokes or the “welcome to your first Final Four” wise cracks. Well Calipari will be laughing his way to Houston while coaches that hate his guts watch from home. Now Calipari must prove he can win the big one. The Wildcats have won nothing but close games in this tournament, so that may be a sign Calipari is ready to get over that hump and win his first title and exorcise the demons of 2008′s heart-breaking loss with Memphis which will be replayed ad nauseam this week.
7. Kemba Walker vs. Brandon Knight
Point guards Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight have done nothing but improve their draft stock in the last month. With Jeremy Lamb playing a Robin to his Batman, Walker has been nearly unstoppable during the post season. We wonder how he has anything left in the tank following his performance in the Big East Tournament. Yet he’s always reaching down and pulling out more great play. Meanwhile, UK’s Brandon Knight has seen his draft stock soar recently and had NBA scouts drooling with his 22-point performance to down North Carolina yesterday. This is the marquee player match-up in the Final Four and whoever wins it on Saturday could wind up being the national champion.
6. Jim Calhoun vs. John Calipari
If you haven’t heard, Calhoun hates Calipari with a white-hot passion that dates all the way back to when they were competing for recruits while Cal was at UMass. Said Calhoun once: “We’re just not on terms. I really don’t have anything negative with John. There’s been a few things where John’s tried to use the media. He may be good at it, but he’s not good at it when he’s talking about me. My way of business is face-to-face.” Well they will get a face-to-face meeting on Saturday and if Kentucky wins, expect all eyes to be on the post-game handshake.