It's Kentucky and the three dwarfs at Final Four

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."

Region: West

No. 4 Louisville

Coach: Rick Pitino

Last time in Final Four: 2005

Conference: Big East

Record: 30-9

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.

Starting lineup

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.

Region: South

No. 1 Kentucky

Coach: John Calipari

Last time in Final Four: 2011

Conference: SEC

Record: 36-2

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

Starting lineup

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.

Region: East

No. 2 Ohio State

Coach: Thad Matta

Last time in Final Four: 2007

Conference: Big Ten

Record: 31-7

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

Starting lineup

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.

Region: Midwest

No. 2 Kansas

Coach: Bill Self

Last time in Final Four: 2008

Conference: Big 12

Record: 31-6

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

Starting lineup

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

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