by Dan M | Posted on Sunday, March 30th, 2014


Five Questions About the Final Four: Men’s Sweet 16 Starts Thursday

As the countdown for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four moves to within two weeks of its April 5 semifinals and April 7 finals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, five major questions remain for the first Final Four in the Metroplex since Louisville won the 1986 national title at the late, great Reunion Arena in Dallas.
(1)  Can Sweet 16 participant Louisville duplicate its 2013 crown and history from 28 years ago in downtown Dallas?
(2)  Is Baylor the area team (and last team from Texas in the bracket) on a roll entering the Final Four countdown after smothering crowd favorite Creighton 85-55 in the second round at San Antonio?
(3)  Can Kentucky’s three “Texas connections” (including Prestonwood Christian Academy’s Julius Randle) take the Wildcats to their Southeastern Conference-record ninth NCAA hoops’ title? That’s second all-time to UCLA with 11 championships.
(4)  Can one of the three remaining No. 1 seeds after Kentucky upended then-No. 1 and undefeated Wichita State – tourney top seed Florida, Arizona and Virginia – come away with the prize?
(5)  Have the lessons learned from such events as the Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Game, AT&T Cotton Bowl, and other national events at AT&T Stadium helped the overall event management of what might be the most in-demand Final Four in its 76-year history?
Many more queries will be answered before the first week in April as the Sweet 16 prepare to butt heads at Memphis, New York’s Madison Square Garden, Anaheim, Calif., and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Question No. 1 carries as much intrigue as one of the five. Kentucky and Louisville…Friday, March 28…Lucas Oil Stadium (easy driving distance for both powerhouses’ fans…and the “kickers” are what makes college basketball the attention-getter it continues to be.
The Wildcats (26-10) overall are 3-2 in NCAA play against the fourth-seeded Cardinals (now looking far too low from the NCAA DI Men’s basketball committee), but Kentucky only managed a No. 8 seed as Southeastern Conference runnerup and one of only three SEC squads to make the field.
No.11 seed Tennessee faces Michigan in Friday’s other tough test at Indy to give the SEC a pair of squads in the Sweet 16.
Add in the fact that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has never lost a Sweet 16 game as head coach in nine tries at Providence, Louisville or UK over the last 34 years (plus some time as a NBA mentor) and that he is 40-15 in 16 NCAA appearances (including 2-0 in 2014), and there is not much argument that the Cardinals will be favored Friday.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari has similar credentials – amazingly his NCAA record is 40-13 with wins over bone-tough Kansas State of the Big 12, 56-49, and the “shocker” of the 2014 tourney in a 78-76 verdict over then-34-0 Wichita State in St. Louis last Sunday. Couple that with 21 consecutive postseason appearances at Massachusetts, Memphis and the Wildcats, and it literally is the “immovable force against the irresistible object” in terms of physics and hoops.
The winner of that Indy showdown probably can start making its reservations, though 2013 NCAA South Region winner (2-0 at AT&T Stadium in that district last season) Michigan (27-8) cannot be discounted before an anticipated pro-Big Ten Conference crowd – provided the Wolverines can get past upstart Tennessee (24-12 and, like, Baylor, one of the hottest teams in the NCAA postseason).
That leads right into Question No. 2 about the Fighting Baylor Bears of coach Scott Drew at 26-11 and winners of 11 of their last 13 contests. BU has the horses and wherewithal when it is playing at peak performance to top any opponent behind the likes of 7-1 center Isaiah Austin (many groups’ choice for pre-2013-14 Big 12 Player of the Year with 15 points per game and a six-rebound average) from Arlington (hometown hero returns?) to 6-9 forward Cory Jefferson (15 ppg, 8.2 rpg), 6-6 ball handler deluxe Royce O’Neal (106 assists) and three-point gunner Brady Heslip, the Canadian phenom who is 300-for-685 from three-point and hitting 47 percent of his treys this season.
In a perfect-world all-time bracket buster, the Bears might join No. 11 seed Dayton, No. 7 seed Connecticut and No. 11 seed Tennessee in Arlington. Toughest current assignment for Drew’s crew is getting out of Anaheim alive against first-round opponent Wisconsin (28-7) of the Big Ten along with No. 1 seed Arizona (32-4) and San Diego State (31-4 and coached by former Michigan NCAA title winner Steve Fisher).
No. 3 is a no-brainer and leaves Texas and Big 12 area coaches wondering how the annual “call of the wild” of Kentucky basketball recruiting let the 6-9 Randle (averaging 16 ppg, 10.6 rpg and calling North Dallas and McKinney his boyhood home) and the famed Harrison twins – both 6-6 Andrew (scoring 18 ppg to lead UK) and Aaron from Richmond – ever leave Lone Star State borders. Part of the lure of the Texas trio is that UK simply retools when its standout freshmen and sophomores leave for the NBA. Heaven knows what that does to the U-Kats annual NCAA Academic Progress Rate for graduating players.
Question No. 4 remains to be soon, but the three No. 1’s all have a sterling chance to make it to Dallas. Top overall seed Florida has the coaching expertise of two-time NCAA champ Billy Donovan (who played for Pitino at Providence) and a 34-2 record with the lone losses to Wisconsin and Connecticut – both in the Sweet 16, incidentally. Virginia is one of the nation’s best defensive teams at 55.5 points per tilt allowed for No. 1 spot in this week’s NCAA statistics. The 30-6 Cavaliers of coach Tony Bennett must find a way to stop a physical Michigan State bunch (28-8) coached by Tom Izzo.
Arizona, a decided dark horse among the three remaining seeds but deep with talent and tall, enters Sweet 16 play with a 32-4 mark and 22 consecutive wins to open the season. Ironically, the Wildcats are coached by Sean Miller, whose brother Archie Miller is seeking to get upstart Dayton into the Final Four for the first time since 1968 against Stanford (23-12), a 60-57 upset winner over Kansas in the last round and coached by Duke great Johnny Dawkins.
Incidentally, the last time two No. 1 seeds made it to the finals was in 2008 when Kansas upended Memphis. It has happened just six times since 1982.
All these connections may lead to one of the best Final Four’s in recent memories, and the last five may be hard to top:
– in 2013 Louisville edged Michigan 82-76 in a classic confrontation at the Georgia Dome;
– in ’12 Kentucky topped Kansas 67-59 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome;
– in 2011 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Connecticut outslugged upstart Butler 53-41;
– in ’10 Duke edged Butler 61-59 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (Butler players attended class on Monday title game day and rimmed out a game-winning shot from 60 feet at the buzzer);
– and the 2009 fracas produced a 89-72 non-traditional rout by coach Roy Williams and North Carolina over Michigan State – playing in virtually its back yard at Detroit’s Ford Field.
And about Question No. 5: DFW area law enforcement agencies, city governments, Homeland Security, and the NCAA have held dozens of “what if” meetings (even using scenarios of ice and snow storms, which struck Arlington unexpectedly when it hosted the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game) for planning and security purposes.  Except for maybe a fender-bender on I-30 or Highway 360 two hours before tipoff (and some might think the NCAA will have a Chinook helicopter ready to clear the debris), all support systems are a definite go for April 5 and 7 and he public practice day with many area events planned on Fri.-Sun., April 4-6.
Yes, these are five debatable questions, but the answers should produce maybe even more “cussin’ and discussion” among basketball fanatics when the dust clears on Monday, April 7.
It is safe to say the newly-crowned king of college basketball certainly overcame some of the toughest competition and many strong odds in the 76-year history of the NCAA men’s basketball championship.
College Hoops Postseason Notes
The SMU men continue with their best season since 1984-85 after taking care of UC Irvine, LSU and Cal in the NIT at Moody Coliseum. Coach Larry Brown’s No. 1 NIT seed beat with the California Golden Bears Wednesday night at Moody Coliseum, 67-65, brining their season record to  26-9.  The Ponies have become the media darlings in many circles during the regular and postseason…The Baylor and Oklahoma State women both reached the Sweet 16 in impressive fashion on the road to Nashville, Tenn., and the 33rd annual NCAA Division I women’s title. Baylor upended Western Kentucky and California in Waco to advance to meet SEC power in the South Bend Regional. Unfortunately, OSU has to play 34-0 Notre Dame on the Fighting Irish’s home court for the right to tangle with the Baylor-UK winner.
West Virginia had a chance to become the Big 12 Conference’s third member in the women’s Sweet 16 with a difficult road win at LSU late Tuesday night in the Round of 16.
Texas A&M of the SEC also was vying for a Sweet 16 position late Tuesday against rugged women’s powerhouse James Madison…UT-Dallas men ended their top win-producing season in school history by falling to No. 1 nationally Wisconsin-Whitewater 81-63 in UTD’s third trek to the DIII Sweet 16 since 1999. The Comets closed with a school-best 27-4 mark…West Texas A&M’s women rolled out of the NCAA DII Central Regional with a 31-2 overall record after downing Limestone 81-44 in the first round of the DII Women’s Elite Eight at Erie, Pa. The Lady Buffs were meeting Nova Southeastern at 5 p.m. (CDT) in the DII semifinals Wednesday….
Southwestern Assemblies of God, which won the Sooner Athletic Conference crown, advanced to the NAIA Championship before falling in a 99-97 heartbreaker to St. Catharine (Ky)
.Popular former Baylor assistant coach abd Big 12 Conference assistant commissioner for basketball Kim Anderson has coached Central Missouri into the NCAA DII men’s Elite Eight in Evansville, Ind., where the 27-5 Mules were slated to face Southern Connecticut State Wednesday….
Former Baylor assistant coach and North Texas player and grad Danny Kasper took Stephen F. Austin to the Big Dance and a final record of 33-3 after downing VCU in overtime and then falling to perennial power UCLA 77-60 in the second round…For a state which did not qualify a team for NCAA DI in 2013 for the first time since 1978, Texas college basketball has enjoyed a banner season, which will be capped off by the Final Four at AT&T Stadium.


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