Beyond Nova Nation: Battle of No. 1 seeds in Final Four



Michael Zipf

College basketball fans witnessed history this past Sunday as Memphis and Kansas captured Elite Eight victories over Texas and Davidson, respectively, to ensure the first time in Final Four history that all No. 1 seeds reached the penultimate round of the NCAA tournament. However, the fact that Memphis, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA all reached San Antonio, the cite of this year’s Final Four, is actually unsurprising as all four squads ranked among the upper echelon of teams throughout the regular season. Both semi-final games, Kansas vs. North Carolina and UCLA vs. Memphis, present intriguing player and coaching matchups.

Familiar Foes

North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams returns to San Antonio to face his former team, the Kansas Jayhawks, who are now led by Head Coach Bill Self. Kansas’ highly contested regional final victory over Davidson allowed the Jayhawks and Self to finally capture that elusive Final Four appearance and shed the critics’ label of choke artists. However, the Jayhawks will face a hot and formidable North Carolina team led by National-Player-of-the-Year candidate Tyler Hansborough. Hansborough, who averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds during the regular season, has continued his stellar performance through the NCCA tournament.

Currently, Hansborough is averaging 21 points per game and 10 rebounds per games through the first four games of the tournament and his 28-point, 13-rebound performance in the Elite Eight is the main reason why North Carolina is advancing to the Final Four for the second time in the last four years.

However, the facilitator of the North Carolina offense, Ty Lawson, could be the difference maker in this matchup. Lawson, an ultra-quick point guard with deft driving abilities, allows Carolina to play at tremendous up-tempo pace. When Lawson is able to penetrate the defense, it provides shooters Wayne Ellington and Marcus Ginyard, both connecting over 40 percent from beyond the arc, open looks. In order to capture a victory against a solid Kansas defense, Ellington and Ginyard must knock down open jump shots.

Often forgotten in the Tar Heels’ plethora of offensive weapons, sophomore Deon Thompson has quietly produced a solid second season, averaging close to nine points and five rebounds per game. Thompson will need to have a strong performance against a deep and athletic Kansas frontcourt in order to alleviate the interior pressure placed on Hansborough.

The “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” faithful have finally realized their dream of reaching the Final Four after falling to UCLA in the Elite Eight last season. Led by four former McDonald’s All-American guards – Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Russel Robinson and Brandon Rush – the Jayhawks boast a 33-3 record this season. Involving Rush and Robinson early in the game against the Tar Heels will be critical. Both Robinson and Rush struggled against a scrappy Davidson defense in their 59-57 victory over the Wildcats.

Collins, who was plagued by turnovers during the last few games, is often the sparkplug that ignites the Jayhawks offense. Collins’ uncanny ability to attack the basket adds a different dimension to the Jayhawks. The matchup between Collins and Lawson, two of the premier point guards in college basketball, should be entertaining.

Ultimately, this matchup should be determined in the frontcourt with both teams’ guard play offsetting the other. Although North Carolina possesses the projected Collegiate Player of the Year in “Psycho T” Hansborough, Kansas’ frontcourt depth and athleticism could spell trouble for the Tar Heels. Moreover, Kansas’ tenacious defense, which has limited opponents to an average of 58 points per game during the first four games of the tournament, should be able to limit North Carolina’s high- octane offense.

Conversely, the Tar Heels’ sometimes suspect defense could finally catch up to Williams’ squad. In essentially a coin flip, Kansas’ depth and solid defense slightly edges Hansborough and North Carolina’s explosive offense.

Kansas 85, North Carolina 82

Athletes Ready to Shine

What do Memphis’s Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Robert Dozier and Derek Rose have in common with UCLA’s Darren Collison, Kevin Love, Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook have in common? They are all future NBA first-round picks. This year’s Final Four matchup between John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers and Ben Howland’s UCLA sets a stage where future NBA stars will shine.

The backcourt matchup of Rose and Douglas-Roberts versus Collison and Shipp should be extremely entertaining. Rose, Memphis’ heralded freshman point guard projected to be a top pick in next year’s NBA draft, propelled the Tiger’s past Texas with a sensational 21-point, nine-rebound and six-assist performance. Douglas-Roberts, a lanky 6-foot-7-inch combo guard with a variety of skill sets, is often the Tigers’ best offensive option. In order to combat UCLA’s defense, both Rose and Douglas-Roberts, who erupted for 25 points against Texas, will need to carry their strong performances into the Final Four.

Early in his career, Dorsey was classified by experts and his coaching staff as an enigma – a powerful, wide-bodied center with unquestionable skills sets but a seeming lack of desire to fulfill his potential. This season Dorsey has quieted the naysayers, especially recently, averaging over 10 points and 10 rebounds this postseason. Dorsey’s ability to match up against UCLA’s Love will be critical for the Tigers.

The success of UCLA is often predicated on its tenacious defense; however, teams often forget the offensive fire power that the Bruins possess. Led by diaper dandy Love, a consensus First-Team All-American, and electrifying point guard Collison, the Bruins have reached the Final Four for the third season in a row. However, the performances of Westbrook, cousin of Philadelphia Eagles star Brian Westbrook, and Shipp could determine the outcome of the game. Shipp, a prolific outside shooter, has struggled recently to find his jump shot, shooting a paltry 29.6 percent during the NCAA tournament.

Ultimately, UCLA’s experience, solid ball-control and sound defense will prevail over the Tigers run-and-gun offense. Memphis’ suspect outside shooting and inefficiencies at the foul line will finally catch up to the Tigers. The Bruins will win a tight one.

UCLA 72, Memphis 67