Boasting four large schools with fan bases that love to travel, tonight's Final Four match-ups lived up to the hype and expectations in a number of ways. Kentucky - Louisville was closer than expected, and Ohio State - Kansas gave us some great drama that will serve as great fodder for the next few days to supplement all of the preview coverage for the 2012 National Championship.
We get the two winnigest programs in college basketball history facing off Monday night for the title. Kentucky is the 5.5 favorite, Ohio State would have arguably provided a tougher match-up for Kentucky, but the Jayhawks, as they showed against the Buckeyes, should not be counted out.
What would have been flat out silly to say back in November, Bill Self's club has an elite starting frontcourt that can match-up with the Wildcats better than any other team in the country, and a decent backcourt that will have to be at its very best on the biggest stage, The problem is that's a lot to ask.
Before we look more into the season's final game, here are five things that really stuck out from Saturday night.
- Anthony Davis presence is omnipotent - When Kansas goes through their next shoot around, Anthony Davis will alter at least a half dozen of their shots. Seriously. Even if Davis does not physically have a real shot at blocking or even altering an opponent's shot, mentally he can still have an impact. In addition to Davis' five blocks tonight, the number of shots Louisville players took in the paint with hesitation and/or with an unnecessarily high trajectory could be upwards of two dozen. Russ Smith was dropping floaters when he should have taken a layup. Peyton Siva was settling for jumpers with he could have been more aggressive in the lane. You're always thinking about Davis and where he's lurking. The mere thought of his length freaks players out.
- Louisville should be back here next season - They lose Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, but the rest of the rotation will be back, including what should be a healthy Wayne Blackshear. Senior Peyton Siva could contend for Big East Player of the Year if he can turn flashes of brilliance into strings of near dominant play and Gorgui Dieng can only get better with more experience. Headed up by what appears to be a reformed Rick Pitino, a man who just simply seems nicer, this Cardinal team could be a real fun team to follow next season.
- William Buford's box score is misleading - Along with Thomas Robinson, Buford poured in a game high 19-points, including a number of key shots in the second half that kept the Buckeyes from completely sinking in the second half with Jared Sullinger struggling and Deshaun Thomas in foul trouble. But watch the game again and you see a pair of plays where Buford simply got out-hustled, specifically when Travis Releford beat Buford down the floor off a turnover and ended up getting a lay-up. The inbounds play following Aaron Craft's lane violation was also a bit confounding. Buford looked like he wasn't ready for the final three seconds, as he lost the man he was guarding and was unable to commit a quick foul. Buford played well tonight, but surely there are a few plays that will haunt him.
- Jeff Withey deserves more credit than Jared Sullinger deserves scorn - Look, Sullinger may have some serious flaws to his game. Things that didn't really manifest until mid-way through this season have really made us re-assess how he fits into an NBA team's rotation. But the fits Withey gave Sullinger tonight should be more about the improvemtn the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year has made this season. Remember, Withey led the country this season in block percentage (15.38). He's a true seven footer that, at least on the defensive end, is a pro player. Sullinger is what he is. If anything, we're at fault for building up the Buckeyes forward as a freshman and tearing him down as a sophomore.
- Look out for Elijah Johnson - While it was only a modest 13-points, Johnson was limited to just 28 minutes of play due to foul trouble, but he finished 6-9 from the floor and showed he's capable of scoring off the dribble or in transition. Based on his play this month, I think Johnson should be considered as the Jayhawks "go-to guy" on the perimeter, and he will have to come up big once again on Monday night.