Though this year’s Final Four teams are separated by over 1,300 miles and four states, it’s likely the regional champions for both the men and the women feel the same pressure creeping up on them as the weekend approaches. On Monday and Tuesday night, the 2012 NCAA Champions will be determined, and six of the final eight will leave their respective cities disappointed.
In New Orleans, the first game pits longtime legends John Calipari and Rick Pitino together in a Bluegrass Rivalry of no.1 overall seed Kentucky against Louisville, the West’s 4th seed. After an up-and-down season for Pitino’s Cardinals, Louisville made a run through the Big East Tournament. The Cards brought home the hardware from Madison Square Garden and turned that into an exciting run to the Final Four, blowing past top seeded Michigan St. and Florida in the process.
Kentucky has trekked along in methodical fashion, beating each of their tourney opponents by double digits behind balanced scoring and hard-nosed defense from their wise-beyond-their-years squad.
These two in-state teams met earlier this season, when Kentucky beat Louisville 69-62 on December 31st behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s 24 points and 19 rebounds. The rivalry, however, between Pitino and Calipari goes back much further to when Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats beat Calipari’s UMass Minutemen in the 1996 Final Four, on the way to a national championship a few days later.
On Saturday, Calipari will get his chance to flip the script.
Big men do battle in the late game tomorrow, with highly touted Thomas Robinson of Kansas and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State going at each other with a berth in the championship on the line. Both 2 seeds toppled their top foe in their brackets with Kansas taking it to North Carolina and Ohio St. bringing down the year-long goliath Syracuse.
In Denver all four no.1 seeds will challenge each other on Sunday in the Women’s Final Four. The Baylor Bears, led by no doubt about it College Player of the Year Brittney Griner, are aiming to finish the season undefeated and become the first college basketball program ever — men or women’s — to finish the season with 40 victories. They’ll face a tough Final Four test against 35-1 Stanford, who lost only one game all season… to Connecticut.
Though the Lady Huskies aren’t as dominant as they were in years past, Geno Auriemma’s squad is still a no.1 seed fighting for their championship berth against the final top seed, Notre Dame. The Irish, led by do-it-all guard Skylar Diggins are coming in off a blowout victory over Maryland. So while nothing but one seeds survived to Denver, there’s sure to be excitement on Sunday.
And as the nerves settle and the games draw closer, for both the men and women, the message is clear.
The Final Four is nice. A championship however, would be so much sweeter.
Who’ll raise the trophy in New Orleans on Monday, and Denver on Tuesday? While the answer to that question is not yet clear, one thing is, fans are in for a fantastic weekend to end an incredible college basketball season.