The 2012 Kentucky Wildcat Invitational is down to its Final Four participants, and the foregone conclusion that is a UK national title is down to its final three games. Only Louisville, which is a four seed, comes to New Orleans not as a one or a two seed. Kentucky comes to New Orleans as the prohibitive favorite having won its four tournament games by no fewer than 12 points. Can Louisville, Kansas or Ohio State beat Kentucky? The obvious answer is "no." The less obvious answer is "no way."
No. 4 Louisville
Coach: Rick Pitino
Last time in Final Four: 2005
Conference: Big East
How they reached the Final Four: d. No. 13 Davidson 69-62; d. No. 5 New Mexico 59-56; d. No. 1 Michigan State 57-44; d. No. 4 Florida 72-68
Winning streak: 8
Last loss: March 7 vs. Seton Hall
Famous U of L alum: Diane Sawyer, ABC News
Future NBA players: Gorgui Dieng, C. Primarily because he's big.
Kyle Kuric, G/F, 6-4, 195
Chane Behanan, F, 6-6, 245
Gorgui Dieng, C, 6-11, 235
Chris Smith, G, 6-2, 195
Peyton Siva, G, 6-0, 180
Scouting Louisville: Like Connecticut last season, the Cardinals finished in the middle of the Big East Conference, but won the conference tournament to start this extended run. Louisville finished only 10-8 in the Big East. Of Rick Pitino's many Final Four teams at Providence, Kentucky and Louisville, this may be his least talented team. The Cardinals aren't a high-scoring team -- their 68.8 points per game ranks 155th nationally -- and they don't shoot the ball well, 42.5 percent. But they control the tempo exceptionally well, and rebound and defend as well any team in the nation.
Can they beat Kentucky? Yes. Maybe. Sorta. Kinda. Probably not. They are not going to get into a running game, and will grind you to death, giving them a chance to remain in every game. It all depends if Louisville can strangle this game to a halt and keep the score low. If Louisville trails by any more than eight, it's over.
No. 1 Kentucky
Coach: John Calipari
Last time in Final Four: 2011
How they reached the Final Four: d. No. 16 Western Kentucky 81-66; d. No. 8 Iowa State 87-71; d. No. 4 Indiana 102-90; d. No 3. Baylor 82-70
Winning streak: 4
Last loss: March 11 vs. Vanderbilt
Famous UK alum: Harry Dean Stanton, actor
Future NBA players: F Michael-Kidd Gilchrist; F Anthony Davis; G Marquis Teague; F Terrence Jones, G Doron Lamb, G Darius Miller
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, 6-7, 232
Anthony Davis, F, 6-10, 220
Marquis Teague, G, 6-2, 189
Terrence Jones, F, 6-9, 252
Doron Lamb, G, 6-4, 210
Scouting Kentucky: This is a tremendous amount of talent that can play any style. This could become the first underclassmen-led team to win a national title in this era of one-and-doners. The Wildcats feature six players who could be selected in the NBA Draft in June. Davis is expected to be the top pick. They rank 15th nationally in rebounding, 20th in scoring, and 10th in field goal percentage. They simply have no holes, but have yet to play in a tournament game where it's close at the end and nerves could be a factor.
Can this team lose? Yes. Indiana and Vanderbilt beat Kentucky this season, so it can happen. Louisville lost at Kentucky earlier this season, 69-62. Even though the Wildcats spread the ball well and appear to have no great flaw, their best players are underclassmen.
No. 2 Ohio State
Coach: Thad Matta
Last time in Final Four: 2007
Conference: Big Ten
How they reached the Final Four: d. No. 15 Loyola-Maryland 78-59; d. No. 7 Gonzaga 73-66; d. No. 6 Cincinnati 81-66; d. No. 1 Syracuse 77-70
Winning streak: 4
Last loss: March 11 vs. Michigan State
Famous OSU alum: Dwight Yoakam, actor and country music singer
Future NBA players: F Jared Sullinger; G William Buford
William Buford, G, 6-6, 220
Jared Sullinger, F, 6-9, 265
Aaron Craft, G, 6-2, 190
Lenzelle Smith Jr., G, 6-4, 205
Deshaun Thomas, F, 6-7, 225
Scouting Ohio State: Next to Kentucky, the Buckeyes are the tournament's most complete team. Craft is a capable passer and penetrator; Buford can score from the wing either via jumper or create his own shot; and Sullinger is the classic college player whose game thrives here but likely won't in the NBA. It's a smart, veteran team that knows how to win.
Can they beat Kentucky? Yes. The Buckeyes are going to need to hit better than 40 percent of their 3-pointers to do it, and Sullinger is going to have to at least be a wash with Anthony Davis.
No. 2 Kansas
Coach: Bill Self
Last time in Final Four: 2008
Conference: Big 12
How they reached the Final Four: d. No. 15 Detroit 65-50; d. No. 10 Purdue 63-60; d. No. 11 NC State 60-57; d. No. 1 North Carolina, 80-67.
Winning streak: 4
Last loss: March 9 vs. Baylor
Famous KU alum: Paul Rudd, actor
Future NBA players: F Thomas Robinson; G Tyshawn Taylor; C Jeff Withey
Thomas Robinson, F, 6-10, 237
Jeff Withey, C, 7-0, 235
Tyshawn Taylor, G, 6-3, 185
Travis Releford, G, 6-6, 210
Elijah Johnson, G, 6-4, 195
Scouting Kansas: This may be Jayhawks head coach Bill Self's best coaching job. KU played a lower seed in each of the first three rounds of the tournament, and then faced a North Carolina team without its starting point guard. With Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey, KU's height can be a tremendous problem for opponents and there may not be a more persistent post player in the nation than Robinson. Guard Tyshawn Taylor is athletic and effective, but he can make killer mistakes.
Can they beat Kentucky? No. The Jayhawks are likely good enough to keep the game close, but unless Taylor and Travis Releford play the game of their lives, KU would be baited into a style it can't win against that team.
Mac Engel 817-390-7760