|ESPN.com: NCAA Tourney 12||[Print without images]|
Days before senior citizens tussled over the rivalry -- seriously -- the animosity between Louisville and Kentucky already had steered the overall buildup to the Final Four.
The Bluegrass State will close for business when the two schools clash on Saturday in New Orleans. Bourbon Street could become the stage for a civil war, as Rick Pitino and John Calipari seek in-state supremacy and best hair honors.
|Jared Sullinger missed the December matchup with Kansas, a 78-67 Ohio State loss.|
Once Kentucky dismissed Baylor on Sunday, you couldn't escape the immediate magnification of the matchup, no matter where you lived. And for that reason, the other game did not garner the same level of national attention or glory.
It was as though Ohio State and Kansas had been moved to the free stage. To see the Wildcats and Cardinals battle, however, you'd have to pay. The hardwood's "The Hunger Games."
But once the hype clears, fans will find their Superdome seats -- assuming the liquor doesn't lead them to nearby New Orleans Arena -- and watch one of the most intriguing Final Four pairings in recent seasons. The better game of the evening, not the one that has flooded social media, occupied national headlines and turned dialysis patients into combatants, will air after Louisville and Kentucky settle their regional antagonism.
Ohio State versus Kansas is in prime time for a reason. It's simply the better matchup.
It's the game that's been dissected, analyzed and evaluated by experts since Sunday. And still, no consensus on the outcome.
We were robbed of the collision between Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger when Kansas defeated Ohio State 78-67 in December. Back trouble sidelined Sullinger in that game.
And now, they'll scrap on the sport's most grandiose platform. The winner earns best power forward in America honors, right?
Both Robinson and Sullinger passed on millions from the NBA to pursue a national championship.
Their backgrounds only add more weight to this meeting.
Robinson endured inconceivable tragedy last season when he lost his grandfather, grandmother and mother within a month. Although he'd become the caretaker for his little sister, Robinson chose to come back for another season, work on his game and lead the Jayhawks to New Orleans.
Sullinger has been around the Buckeyes program since he was a chubby middle school kid competing in pickup games with brother and Ohio State guard J.J. Sullinger and his teammates. When Sullinger announced his decision to play at OSU for another season, he cited his love for the program. For the Columbus native, winning a national championship isn't about personal prestige. The second-year forward just wants to bring a title home.
But neither can do it alone. Balanced and talented supporting casts will be major factors this weekend.
Jeff Withey has a higher block rate (15.14 percent, according to Ken Pomeroy) than Kentucky's Anthony Davis (13.95). But whom will the 7-footer guard on the Buckeyes roster?
Jayhawks coach Bill Self could put Withey on Sullinger. But Robinson is a better fit for the task. If Self chooses the latter matchup, however, what will he do with the versatile Deshaun Thomas?
Buckeyes coach Thad Matta is scratching his head, too. Can he guard the Jayhawks' frontcourt honestly? Sullinger on Withey and Thomas on Robinson seems suspect.
Withey and Thomas have been two of the most impressive performers during the NCAA tournament. But it's tough to project how effective they'll be on Saturday just based on the matchup.
Tyshawn Taylor is one of the most explosive guards in the country. And Aaron Craft is arguably the game's top thief. Taylor committed seven turnovers in his team's December victory over Ohio State. Craft forced six of them.
|Kansas will look to Tyshawn Taylor for some offensive firepower on Saturday.|
But I wouldn't spend much time reviewing that tape.
Sullinger didn't play. And both teams have matured since the first encounter. Right now, it feels like an even match.
One second, I can come up with five reasons that the Jayhawks will win. Robinson will explode. Withey will put a lid on the rim. Taylor will rise to the occasion and limit his turnovers. Elijah Johnson will make clutch plays in a tight game. Self will outcoach Matta.
The next, however, I'm siding with the Buckeyes. The Jayhawks can't contain Thomas. Craft will give Taylor a migraine. If William Buford shows up, it's over. Sullinger is on a mission. Matta just toppled Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, so he can handle Self, too.
I picked the Buckeyes, but neither outcome would surprise me in this game.
I don't have the same perspective on Louisville-Kentucky. An earlier matchup, bad blood and sideline personalities have masked the reality that this one might not be close.
Louisville deserves credit for its much-improved defense. The Cardinals, who lost to the Wildcats in December, have solved every postseason quandary -- beginning with their Big East tournament title run -- through their defensive effectiveness. Man or zone, the Cardinals have been a juggernaut on that end of the floor.
But they're facing a team that has dominated every opponent throughout the tournament and avoided the nail-biters that defined Louisville's trip to the Final Four. Four opponents. Four double-digit victories for the Wildcats.
The same night that the Wildcats accrued 102 points in 40 minutes against Indiana, the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat failed to crack 100 in 48.
This is a dangerous Kentucky team. Think Mike Tyson before he underestimated Buster Douglas. One goal: destruction.
Perhaps the Cardinals will shock the world with a win over the national title favorites. But how? What will they do with Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? And how will they score?
On paper, the matchup that has caused a national stir is still a good one, even without the history.
But it's not the Big Easy's best. It doesn't offer the same parity, individual matchups or mystery as Ohio State versus Kansas.
If my bosses told me that I could watch only one game Saturday during my time in New Orleans, I'd pick Ohio State versus Kansas without hesitation. But I'd party with fans from Louisville and Kentucky.
Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN.