Finally, the Final Four.
It’s been a good NCAA tournament, though the favorites
and higher seeds have dominated the event. Kent State and Southern Illinois did
their part as Cinderellas, of sorts, and Missouri chose the first two rounds to
play its best ball of the season.
Top seeds Maryland and Kansas held form to reach the Final
Four this weekend in Atlanta. Oklahoma, who many ÂÃ‚Âargued was worthy of a No. 1
seed, join the duo along with surprising Indiana. It’s hard to think of the
Hoosiers as an upstart, considering the long tradition of Indiana basketball
excellence. However, this a new page in IU hoops.
With Indiana ousting Duke in the tourney’s most exciting
game, Kansas has emerged as the 8-5 favorite to win the national championship
Monday night, according to the latest Las Vegas Sports Consultants odds.
Maryland, which benefits the most from Duke bowing out in
the Sweet 16 round, is second choice at 9-5. Oklahoma, Big 12 tournament champs
after beating Kansas, is third at 2-1. ÂÃ‚ÂIndiana, which bounced Kent State on
incredible perimeter shooting in the Elite Eight round, completes the field at
8-1. The Hoosiers began the NCAA tourney at 40-1.
Who wins? Well, like Bally’s-Paris Las Vegas race and
sports director John Avello said, when Duke went out everyone’s chances went
up. The tournament became wide open with no team showing the capability of
extending over an opponent until the final minutes when foul shooting tells the
If you like size, Maryland and Kansas are the favorites.
Both are big and agile and like the up-tempo.
Those that care for speed, quickness and defense have to
love Oklahoma. The Sooners would clearly be the team to beat if this were a
track meet. They know how to shut down the opponents top scorers. Just ask
Missouri’s Clarence Gilbert and his 1-for-16 effort.
And, the basketball purists who enjoy fundamentally sound
teams will love Indiana. Kent State sure didn’t appreciate 15 of 18 perimeter
shooting, but the incredible accuracy has long been a trademark of Indiana
basketball, which specializes in patience and taking the intelligent shot.
Now that all the positives for each team has been cited,
let’s get down to business.
Saturday, March 30
Oklahoma (—6) vs Indiana: The Sooners and Hoosiers
tip off first at 3:07 p.m. PT. Playing in the Georgia Dome may give IU a slight
edge since the Hoosiers are the more comfortable team in domes. The storyline
will be if Tom Coverdale can recover from the high ankle sprain and whether head
coach Mike Davis can make IU fans forget Bob Knight.
Davis has done a remarkable job to establish his
credibility in Bloomington and deserves the support he is finally getting from
even the staunchest Knight fans. Jared Jeffries has been huge in the tourney and
must again have a big game.
The Sooners would love to turn this game into a track meet
and they can drain the 3’s. The guy that sticks out in my mind is Ebi Ere, who
can go on binges where he never misses. If Ora starts hitting bombs, this will
be a blowout. Indiana has had a great tournament, but the Sooners should take
full advantage of the Hoosiers’ deliberate style and cover the margin rather
Kansas (—1) vs Maryland: This is the battle
everyone will be waiting for. Two heavyweights with coaches
named Williams, looking for that elusive national title. One thing is for
certain, Kansas will not enjoy the 30-rebound advantage it put on Oregon to
bounce the Ducks from the Elite Eight round.
The Gooden-Collison tandem was sensational last Sunday.
They are not only tall, but extremely mobile. Maryland really showed its power against Kentucky when relying on the
inside game over the final 10 minutes.
That could be the difference in this war. No team more than
the Terrapins has showed off the power game. Expect a few more outside shots
from Juan Dixon and Steve Blake than they took against UConn.
Maryland has to believe this is the year, especially with
Duke gone. Look for a lot of grimaces from Gary Williams and the Terps to edge
KU in a classic.
That sets up a Maryland-OU
final Monday night. It’s too late to change my bracket when I had the
Terps and Sooners in the final. I like Maryland to win, 86-79. Have to trust it.