March 26, 2006

Making a case for each at the Final Four.

So we have our Final Four set with the UCLA Bruins, LSU Tigers, Florida Gators, and the improbable, cinderella George Mason Patriots. We'll have a 2, 3, 4, and 11 seed, totaling a rating of 20 if you will. This is the second highest figure since the 2000 Final Four which featured a 22 rating (1-5-8-8).

How can you not love this team from Fairfax, Virginia? First off, no writer or TV analyst in the country can even say that they belonged in the tournament. They ALL owe apologies to George Mason. Every single radio show I listened to during the three days between the Selection Show and First Round talked of how this team should not have made the tournament. Some pointed to the weak conference, others pointed out they had lost to conference rival, Hofstra, twice and that Hofstra belonged in.

Well now we have the Patriots storming the party and you might as well erase the 11-seed by their name when they take the court next Saturday in Indianapolis. Any team that can get past Connecticut and their length can easily take out the rest of what is remaining. Good luck to them.

Next up is the Florida Gators. The Gators are long and lean with Joakim Noah and Al Horford inside. Critical to the theme of this tournament, the Gators are young, led by primarily sophomores. Judging the Final Four field, using the first four games of the tournament, I would have to favor the Gators to cut down the nets in Indianapolis next Monday. They have won three of their four games by double-digits and Noah has been unstoppable on the inside. However, as mentioned before, Florida fans will fall into the trap of thinking about Monday before wrapping up Saturday's game with George Mason. Mason handled Connecticut who had more size inside than the Gators.

The LSU Tigers certainly have size with Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Tyrus Thomas, the SEC Freshman of the Year. What the Tigers lack is an outside shooting threat to counter their only senior, Darrel Mitchell. The team plays loose and fun and they get their attitude from Davis, a carefree sort who rattled Coach K of Duke in their pre-game interviews. LSU has the distinction of being the only team in this tournament to have run through the 1 and 2 seeds of their region in Duke and Texas in back-to-back games. Michigan State did the very same thing last year, and no one still can match the 1997 Arizona run of taking down three No. 1 seeds.

The Tigers will face the Bruins of UCLA in the late game at Indianapolis. The Bruins won the ugliest game in the tournament in some time against Memphis, 50-45, to get here. The Bruins were considered (much like Florida and LSU) to be another year away from doing heavy damage across the basketball landscape. Point guard Jordan Farmar will guide the troops, but if your expecting the high-flying, finesse baby blues of old - forget it. UCLA is basically a Big East team under coach Ben Howland. The Bruins play long and lean and have excellent, young talent on the court. (Notice the theme, yet?) What UCLA has going for it in Indianapolis is that they are the traditional program, looking to add to their 11 national titles.

Now lets get to the point.

I like Florida to defeat George Mason in the first game. Lets say, Florida 73, George Mason 66. What Florida will absolutely have to do is put away the Patriots early in the second half, otherwise, 30,000 fans will suddenly rally against them, wanting to see Cinderella prevail.

In the night cap, I like the Bruins. UCLA 59, LSU 57. This game will be very low-scoring with shot blockers all over the court. What will put LSU out is their lack of perimeter shooting, but the same could be said for the Bruins. Look for both teams to play some form of zone defense because both have suffered when other teams have employed zone so far in the tournament.

That gives me a title game of UCLA vs. Florida and I like the Gators to bring home their first title. Through four games, the Gators are the strongest left in the field. They play inside-outside very well, with guards Lee Humphrey and Corey Brewer being overshadowed by Noah and Horford. This game will be up and down, but defense will be the story of the day. Florida wins being able to score against zone and man-to-man, 66-61.


The Buss said...

This is such a tough one to pick. You're absolutely right though when you say that we can all but erase the #11 next to George Mason's name. In terms of execution and quality of play, I think they have to be the favorite going in. Of course, they haven't had to play a killer SEC or PAC-10 schedule all year, so that plays against them.
At least you have the guts to pick a winner, I'm not even going to try anymore, I didn't pick a single final four team this year, so I'm going to sit back and watch and keep my mouth shut this time.

The College Game said...

Oh I cant get too cocky. I had my entire Final Four heading into Saturday and only UCLA coming out of the weekend still alive.

George Mason. God this is one heckuva story.

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Heavenly time period: College football season until the championship game of March Madness.