John: Yo, hoops nation! John and Ken here, offering what's sure to be the first Final Four preview you've seen this week…. What's that? There've been other previews? They didn't even have the courtesy to wait to hear what we say? Outrageous presumption! We'll tell you what you need to know, right, K-man?
Ken: Yes, what you need to know and maybe a few things you don't. Even though there aren't any surprises in San Antonio, I think we can provide a nugget or two that might have been missed by the wall-to-coverage of each of these teams since Midnight Madness. Which team should we start with?
John: All four! Behold the unprecedented spectacle here. It's true, as I wrote on Tuesday, that I'm a little spooked by how well one-seeds have been faring the past couple years, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the spectacular collisions that result. I, for one, am looking forward to at last seeing these teams pick on someone their own size.
Ken: One of the interesting things about this group of four is that they all eschew the three-pointer, they're all prolific at getting free throw attempts, and they all belly up to the offensive rebounding buffet. For all the talk about how threes revolutionized the college game, the truly great teams get most of their points one and two at a time.
John: Except, oddly, for Florida during the six games of the tournament last year. Alas, I digress. Let's get right to it: Kansas vs. North Carolina. The Jayhawks have been made a slight underdog in this one, no doubt because they quite literally came within inches of losing to Davidson, while no team came within a mile of Carolina the past two weeks. Can these plucky underdogs from Lawrence, Kansas, actually (gulp) win?
Ken: It wouldn't exactly be the upset of the century if they did. This is a rare Final Four game in which foul trouble shouldn't be an issue. Hansbrough hardly ever gets early fouls, and KU has enough depth to withstand the inevitable fouls that Hansbrough will draw. Therefore, I expect this game to live up to the hype, since unexpected personnel issues shouldn't be a factor.
John: It seems like all four teams here have added at least one impressive new dimension to their game during the tournament. For North Carolina, that dimension has been the ability to score a ridiculous number of points without Hansbrough shooting a lot of free throws. Still, it should be an absolutely incredible showdown between the Tar Heel offense and the Jayhawk D. I'll be particularly interested to see if Carolina can do business on their offensive glass. Darnell Jackson and Darrell Arthur will have other ideas. Then again, so did Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter, and look what happened.
Ken: If I may mention other Tar Heels besides Hansbrough, Danny Green could be a key for the UNC offense. One of the Jayhawks' notorious defensive soft spots is guarding sweet-shooting big men. Green isn't necessarily big, but he can shoot it from the wing and will likely get a handful of decent looks. Anything jump at you when Kansas has the ball?
John: Well, you know my pet theory: get out in transition against a great offensive rebounding team. Carolina gets their points from, among other things, sending multiple large athletic bodies to the offensive glass. That should open up opportunities for the other team in transition. Assuming, of course, that the other team can get the defensive rebound. Speaking of pet theories: Mario Chalmers is a ticking time bomb who needs to shoot more. There, I said it.
Ken: It's hard for me to knock anything in the Kansas offense, but I suppose you're right about Chalmers. Still, I wonder if he's one of those guys who just can't really shoot more than he does. If he's looking for his shot, he's not doing the other things that have made the Jayhawk offense so good for most of the season. His hand may get forced against UNC, but I'll make a prediction about the last three games : there's bad news in store for any team that relies on the three-point shot heavily.
John: Not too much danger of that in the early game: UCLA vs. Memphis. Neither team needs threes. The Tigers don't need them because they attack the rim and know that Joey Dorsey is there to clean up any misses. The Bruins don't need them because they have one Kevin Love. Actually, Darren Collison could probably stand to shoot a few more from beyond the arc.
Ken: Memphis doesn't need threes? What happens if Shawn Taggart isn't hitting those five-footers in the lane early? It looked easy for him against Texas, but it probably won't look so easy against the bigger Bruins. Does Memphis fall back on three-point shots and long twos as they've done at times in the past (see: Tennessee)? Part of the reason they haven't shot threes in the tournament is that they've gotten to the line so much. That's a lot less likely to happen against UCLA. Those Dorsey put-backs aren't going to come as easily, either. I have to admit, I'm a little concerned about Memphis' ability to put up points in this one.
John: I agree that Memphis won't be going to the line very much. UCLA simply isn't whistled for fouls. Then again, I'm equally interested in what happens when the Bruins have the ball. No one seems to have noticed, but Ben Howland has an outstanding offense this year. Of course, the Tigers aren't exactly chopped liver on defense.
Ken: Yes, the Bruins' offense is potent, for sure. Josh Shipp's end-of-season shooting struggles have been well documented, but UCLA gets enough from the other four positions that they've been able to compensate reasonably well. I'm keenly interested in what Kevin Love can do in this one. If he somehow manages to score, rebound and get to the line at his usual pace against the tag team of Dozier, Taggart and Dorsey, it will be his most impressive performance yet. I don't know about you, but I'm getting a vibe that this will be another low-scoring affair between these two. Perhaps I'm being irrational. Please, convince me it won't be.
John: No. I have the exact same vibe. In what may be a contribution to the "worst" half of my soon-to-come "Best and Worst of Gasaway" feature, I'm predicting a (relatively) low-scoring affair here. As you say, Memphis should be able to teach freshman Love enough new tricks to at least slow him down. By the same token, UCLA should be able to limit Chris Douglas-Roberts' twos and the Tigers' offensive boards. This could be a replay of the Bruins' game against Texas A&M: low-scoring and close.
Ken: Well, that settles that. That'll make it a good appetizer for the nightcap which figures to have more points, if only because it will have more possessions. Anything else we need to cover?
John: Whatever the result, I'm just looking forward to the post-game interviews after the nightcap. I want to see if Roy Williams drops another dad-gum s-bomb, like he did in 2003 when Kansas had just lost the national championship game and Bonnie Bernstein asked him about the North Carolina opening.
Ken: Unfortunately, Bonnie is long gone. It would have been fun to have some sort of reunion this weekend. I'll just be impressed if Jim Nantz works in a Bernstein reference during the game. I wouldn't put it past him.
John: He needs to be brushing up on the yardages at Augusta National. Somebody tell me what that guy does the other 11 months. With that, let us yield the floor to the four best teams in the country. Here's hoping for not one, but many shining moments.
Ken: Yes. As many shining moments as there have been previews this week.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.
Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact Ken by clicking here or click here to see Ken's other articles.