This Final Four of bluebloods should belong to the Big Blue

Pay attention to that man behind the curtain: Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. (AP photo)

Pay attention to that man behind the curtain: He's Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. (AP photo)

There are no mystery guests at this Final Four. The march of the mid-majors has, at least for this round of March Madness, been halted. Convening under the Superdome roof will be four programs from power conferences, four teams that began the season ranked in the top 13 of The Associated Press poll.

It’s the first time since 2007 — when Florida, Ohio State, UCLA and Georgetown gathered at the Georgia Dome — that a Final Four is guaranteed to produce a national champ that has been a national champ. These four schools have claimed 13 NCAA titles.

For all the charm that mid-majors bring, there’s also a satisfaction that comes from seeing Big Names in Big Games. This Final Four is so stacked that the semifinal carrying a frothing subplot — Kentucky against Louisville as coached by Rick Pitino, who once coached Kentucky — isn’t even regarded as the prime-time game.

Much ink has been spilled over this Bluegrass Lollapalooza, and there was nearly Bluegrass blood spilled — a Louisville rooter and a Kentucky backer went to Fist City this week in, of all places, a dialysis clinic in Georgetown, Ky. (For the record, a 71-year-old Cardinal supporter socked a 68-year-old ‘Cat fan. No charges were filed.) But the harder you look at this pairing — the first Final Four matchup of teams from the same state since Cincinnati beat Ohio State in the 1962 title game — the less it promises.

This isn’t like the 1983 Mideast Regional final, when Louisville and Kentucky met for the first time in 24 years. These teams play each other every season now, and Kentucky tends to win. The Wildcats have taken six of the past eight games, and the exceptions came during the brief coaching tenure of the overmatched Billy Gillispie. Since John Calipari took over in Lexington, his teams haven’t lost to U of L. (Pitino is 4-7 against Kentucky, FYI.)

There’s a chance Louisville will throw up a zone — Pitino did this against Georgia Tech to great effect in the 2005 NCAA — and Kentucky will start missing from the perimeter and get frazzled and be undone by its youth. But Louisville doesn’t figure to score many points itself, and the Wildcats’ talent is clearly superior. (Not just to Louisville’s. To everybody’s.) At last check, Vegas has installed Kentucky as an 8 1/2-point favorite. That sounds about right.

Ohio State-Kansas should be closer. The Jayhawks’ Thomas Robinson was the player-of-the-year frontrunner until Kentucky’s Anthony Davis made his late push, and the Buckeyes’ Jared Sullinger was considered one of the preseason favorites for that honor. Kansas defeated Ohio State by 11 points in Lawrence in December, but that game bears an asterisk: Because of back spasms, Sullinger didn’t play.

It became fashionable in some circles (this one included) to write off Ohio State after home losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin, but the Buckeyes in the Big Dance have been different from those seen in February. There’s a sense of purpose, which only figures: In 2010 Ohio State was seeded No. 1 and had the national player of the year in Evan Turner, but was upset in the Sweet 16 by Tennessee; last year the Buckeyes, without Turner but again a No. 1 seed, lost in the same round to Kentucky.

Ohio State’s only NCAA title came in 1960 — the biggest Buckeyes were Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek; Bobby Knight was a sub — and that 51-year gap stands as an ongoing incongruity. With all its resources, Ohio State has made only three Final Four runs since 1968. (The Mike Redd-Scoonie Penn team lost to UConn in the 1999 semis; the Greg Oden-Mike Conley Jr. one-and-done crew fell to Florida in the 2007 final.)

There’s only team that has a real shot against Kentucky, and that’s Ohio State. The Buckeyes should outlast Kansas — Robinson aside, this isn’t a particularly gifted bunch of Jayhawks, and point guard Tyshawn Taylor has a penchant for keeping both teams in the game — and advance to Monday’s final.

Strange things happen when a championship game is played in New Orleans. Georgetown’s Fred Brown passed to North Carolina’s James Worthy in 1982. Chris Webber called a timeout Michigan didn’t have in 1993. Kansas missed 18 of 30 free throws in 2003. It wouldn’t be a massive upset — an N.C. State over Houston — if Ohio State beat Kentucky. It would, however, be a surprise. Even in a Final Four of regal cloth, the Big Blue seems a cut above.

By Mark Bradley

61 comments Add your comment

Rickster

March 30th, 2012
11:35 am

Rickster

March 30th, 2012
11:37 am

Like Kentucky should be… except for the fact that Mark likes them in the tourney. Now I’m not so sure.

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2012
11:41 am

Kudos, Rickster.

GTT

March 30th, 2012
11:43 am

Ricky Pitino

March 30th, 2012
12:15 pm

Since Calipari is more sleazy than me, Louisville should win.

Gator Mike

March 30th, 2012
12:16 pm

Mark Bradley, aren’t you a KY alum? I respect UK as a school, I believe Calipari is one of the slimeist coaches in college sports. The fact that UK bought into him has amazed me from the time he arrived in Lexington.

Paul in NH

March 30th, 2012
12:17 pm

I can’t see anyone stopping UK – that chance went away with Marshall’s left wrist and Henson’s ankle.

DawginLex

March 30th, 2012
12:33 pm

KY should win.

This state is in a frenzy

Louisville winning would cause hysteria

That being said, I agree with Mark

UK 70
UL 68

OSU 68
KU 64

UK 72
OSU 67

BobDawg

March 30th, 2012
12:43 pm

MARK, if Calipari loses to Pitino in the final four. Isn’t he done in Lexington???

Skeezix

March 30th, 2012
12:50 pm

After Memphis, Calipari should have been banned from coaching at any college. It shows how far standards have dropped and how upside down priorities are at so many colleges. The Univ. of Ky.’s mens’ B-Ball program is nothing more than a NBA farm system for 18 year olds, at taxpayer expense–while Calipari rakes in millions.

I hope Calipari loses once again.

Kentucky Jacket

March 30th, 2012
1:00 pm

Mark, it is crazy up here. Great for the State and the cities of Louisville and Lexington. I agree Kentucky has the better talent but something tells me Louisville will come to play. Should be a great game. I’m a football guy looking forward to the Jackets opener against Va Tech but it has been fun here this week. Go Cards.

DawginLex

March 30th, 2012
1:10 pm

skeezix

Explain to us what Calipari did?

He had 2 of his players cheat;

1 hired an agent

1 had someone take the SAT for him(the NCAA Clearinghouse also ruled Rose eligible twice)

No coach in america would have sat Derrick Rose

Do you honestly think the NCAA didn’t try to get Calipari?
Do you honestly think Calipari told both of these kids to do these things?

Calipari was in charge when they happened. That’s it. That’s why he is still allowed to coach, never had to sit out 1 game and that is why both programs were NEVER on probation before during or after his time there.

Mark Bradley

March 30th, 2012
1:42 pm

I was talking with my brother, who lives in Maysville, and he said it was wilder than 1983. Which kind of makes sense: The reality of Kentucky-Louisville in the NCAA tournament only had a day-and-a-half to simmer then. Now it had a week, or thereabouts

Herschel Talker

March 30th, 2012
1:50 pm

MB:

FIRE MARK RICHT!!!!

HT

Paul in NH

March 30th, 2012
1:52 pm

Mark,
I can’t think of another rivalry in US sports that would be as crazy as the Louisville-UK semifinal. Only thing I can compare it to is Liverpool playing Everton in a semifinal at Wembley.

The rut

March 30th, 2012
1:55 pm

Confuscious say, he who cheats the best, wins. KY all the way!

doc

March 30th, 2012
2:02 pm

thanks for setting it straight for me mark.

i thought the last night was going to be strictly blue with ku and uk going after it.

did you consult your esteemed colleague mr dave o’brien on this or go out on a limb by yourself?

len

March 30th, 2012
2:02 pm

Ky vs Louisville or Slimiest vs Slimier (Calipari vs Pitino)

How Kentucky could justify hiring Calipari or Pitino just amazes me. Some standards of integrity in the SEC

doc

March 30th, 2012
2:03 pm

confucious say it is even harder to get through the mark filter as it is to predict the best cheater.

Alphare

March 30th, 2012
2:12 pm

Mark,

since you are a professional writer, got to ask about it:

isn’t it wrong to say “different than”, rather than “different from”?

I went thru some formal English training, I remember some multiple choice questions would list both as answers and the correct one is “different from”.

No biggie, just curious.

Marcus

March 30th, 2012
3:12 pm

MB,
do you and M. Cunningham have something on the line, say wear the other schools’ jersey?

Buckeye

March 30th, 2012
3:57 pm

Provided we get by Kansas, we match up well in the half court game with the Cats. Craft will pester Teague all night long and we have three big bodies and to beat on Davis. Don’t think we can run with ‘em, though. Buford will be the key IMO, if’s he’s on, we’ll hang and have a chance. If he pulls another 2-14 we’re done. Should be fun regardless.

Hey dogs, did you even get an NIT invite this year?

Buckeye

March 30th, 2012
3:58 pm

Buckeye

March 30th, 2012
4:00 pm

Hope to see the Cats in the Final. Anything can happen. Remember, the Patriots were 18-0 and untouchable. Then they played the game.

Brad

March 30th, 2012
4:06 pm

Marcus Camby took money from an agent and the NCAA granted eligibility to Derrick Rose before taking it away from him *after the season was over.* Thus, Calipari has two Final Fours vacated for things he had no control over. He’s not dirty.

Buckeye

March 30th, 2012
4:09 pm

I wonder if Howard “now I’m NBA , don’t ever play, but Tweet each day” Thompkins would have led the dogs deep into the Tourney this year?

Coach Ralph Fontaine

March 30th, 2012
4:11 pm

What has Coach Cal actually done to be called slimy? UGA just had 2 maybe up to 5 players suspended this week, do you blame Coach Richt? Coach Cal just seems to be honest with his recruits and players that they have an understanding of getting them in NBA. College athletics is not an amatuer process anymore and Cal is the only one being honest about it and that is why he gets these great players.

Buckeye

March 30th, 2012
4:13 pm

No worries, dogs. Your weekend is salvaged. You can watch KY vs. dogs baseball at 4PM Saturday on Fox Sports South.

Coach Ralph Fontaine

March 30th, 2012
4:21 pm

Look up how many coaches have had to vacate wins in the past. It will stun you to look at the big names, theirs just wasn’t a final four appearance. Give me 2 Coach Cals, 2 Mark Bradleys and an Anothony Davis, I’ll get ya to the semi’s, ill see you in the winners bracket!

Coach Ralph Fontaine

March 30th, 2012
4:29 pm

What does Jim Valvano, Ron Hunter, Hugh Durham, Jim Calhoun, Gene Keady, Jack Ramsay, Larry Brown, Wimp Sanderson, Leonard Hamiltonand John Calipari have in common? All have had tourney wins vacated by the NCAA.

Legend of Len Barker

March 30th, 2012
6:48 pm

MB, tell us about the 1982 tournament, when Kentucky and Louisville were supposed to have met for the first time in 23 years.

VCP

March 30th, 2012
9:52 pm

2012-1960 does not equal a “61-year gap.”

Dragon

March 30th, 2012
11:03 pm

If the Bulldogs won the SEC, and the Wildcats win the NCAA, Bradley would wet his panties.

ylojkt

March 31st, 2012
9:47 am

Mark, could the AJC please publish game times and channels when reporting stories about these games? I hate coming to read an article about the game so that I can find when it starts and this info never being published. I shouldn’t have to go to another website to find this info when I’m reading a 1,000 word article about the game on this one.

voss

March 31st, 2012
11:12 am

Reallly,,.,,”there’s a chance Louisville will throw up a zone”..UL has played nothing but zone for the past 4 years.

JSS

March 31st, 2012
11:37 am

The fight between two 70 year olds at a Dialysis Center says it all! My college girlfriend went to Louisville Male (at the old site) and her hate for UK had no end… But my good friend Tracy Huffman is UK stupid (means she loves UK) and is way better looking Ashley Judd! Still, college basketball is mostly unwatchable… Hard to believe it has been 30 years since Georgetown-UNC…

go buckeyes

March 31st, 2012
12:11 pm

the blue may have more talent but the bucks have the best coach and have heart. something that is always lacking with sec teams in all sports.

look no further than all the defections at uga.

looks like rats leaving a sinking ship.

so much for a national championship this year. ….. unless you count the fulmer cup.

may be time to change that cup’s name to the ugag trohpy.

go buckeyes

March 31st, 2012
12:14 pm

hey ylojkt you have to be a dawg to be so stupid. the ajc has a link for that info if you bothered to look….

surprisingly enough it is called “tv listings’ duhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

http://www.ajc.com/sports/atlanta-sports-tv-listings-90690.html

what a dawg tard

ylojkt

March 31st, 2012
1:51 pm

Why should I have to click on another link either? If an article is being written about a future game, why would it not include the time and channel the game is on TV? This is basic information that should be included and I can’t imagine anyone would think it’s a good idea that it’s not relayed.

Joey

March 31st, 2012
3:19 pm

Good to see the blabber-mouth buckeye is still alive – didn’t hear much from him since all the scandals up at the osu.

Also good to see nobody else give a happy damn about the osu other than buckeye . . .

JSS

March 31st, 2012
4:04 pm

Joey must not read the blogs much… That Vanderbilt tuition “Buckeye” is everywhere!

mtraininjax

March 31st, 2012
9:05 pm

Mark – Any team can show up as Villanova when they beat a heavily favored Georgetown, and shoot lights out and win. Any team can have a bad night and lose. I have watched UK and I think they will win the whole thing, but even they can turn the ball over 20 times and the winner of KU/OSU can shoot 80 percent to win. You never know.

Robinson is a beast on the floor, it should be fun to watch KU/OSU. Taylor has done more good than bad in the tourney so far, so I think he will be on his game. That combo of Taylor and Robinson is going to be a good one.

BulldogBen

March 31st, 2012
11:23 pm

CBS missed BOTH the last 2 plays. Awful.

So, two blue blood schools in the final. Yawn.

Warhorse

April 1st, 2012
12:42 am

Nothing blueblood about a bunch of inbred hillbilly fans who can hardly speak the English language — the Cats of Kentucky.

Flavious

April 1st, 2012
9:28 am

Big Blue…blue blood? UK does not win with honor. Just like The Baron did years ago, UK will win at all costs…by any means necessary.

phil

April 1st, 2012
11:43 am

Nice riots in Lexington last night….

What a classless, pathetic program to begin with, not to mention the idiot fanbase with brain’s the size of peanuts.

Assuming UK wins this thing, can it be long until the title is vacated? Until Crimipari is fired?

phil

April 1st, 2012
11:49 am

Fire Crimipari!!

Calipari

April 1st, 2012
5:31 pm

I cheated at Massachusetts. I swore that I knew nothing about all the crooked stuff Camby was doing and those NCAA suits bought it. Then I cheated at Memphis. That time I swore (wink, wink) that I didn’t know anything about Rose’s phony SAT score. Ha, ha! Those fool NCAA investigators bought it again!
Now I’m cheating at Kentucky and having fun doing it too. I figure I should jump ship in about two years, plead my innocence, and go hide out in the pros (like that USC football coach did) just before the NCAA drops the hammer.

UGA fans are idiots

April 1st, 2012
5:52 pm

What’s funny is that UGA is never a part of a national title discussion.

Dawg Bite

April 1st, 2012
9:48 pm

Warhorse you are one sick individual for comments like that. Crawl back in your hole, loser!