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Quick thoughts in the aftermath of the National Championship game

April 3, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

Q: How long will it take until this national championship is vacated by the NCAA?

AP Photo

Kels: Just kidding, ‘Cats fans. John Calipari did a great job recruiting and managing this group of freshmen, which has become the most remarkable one-and-done team in college basketball history. They did all of the things that naysayers criticized young teams for not doing in the past. They defended, they played unselfishly on the offensive end, and they completely bought in to what their coaching staff was telling them. I don’t know how Calipari gets all of these five-star blue chip guys to commit to him no matter where he is, but he has sure figured out how to manage them and guide them along as basketball players once he gets them on campus.

Q:  Larry Brown said the team that drafts Anthony Davis will win 50 games next year. He couldn’t possibly be that good right away, could he?

Kels: He’s going to be pretty good, but we all need to calm down just a little bit. Davis hasn’t filled out yet–he might not have even stopped growing–and he’s not going to play the center position in the NBA. He’ll likely be a 3 or 4, and because he was only 6-2 just two years ago, he has the guard skills and shooting ability that are going to make him a unique player in the league. There’s no question that Davis is going to be a shotblocking force and a terrific defender at the next level, but it is going to take some time before he’s able to go body-to-body with the big boys in the NBA down low.

Q: What went wrong for Kansas in the title game?

Kels: Well…two turnovers by Elijah Johnson near the end, two missed dunks, some missed free throws, missed opportunities to turn Kentucky over, and the inability of Tyshawn Taylor to contain Marquis Teague really killed the Jayhawks. And of course, Anthony Davis was spectacular. Kentucky was too talented in every aspect of the game for Kansas, and they made the plays down the stretch necessary to win a national championship. Add in the fact that UK shot lights out from the field, and that was all she wrote for the Jayhawks.

Q: How does this championship game loss feel as a Kansas fan?

It hurts now, but Thomas Robinson and the Jayhawks will eventually come to realize just how special this run was. (Shane Kayser/Kansas City Star)

Kels:  It’s always tough when your season ends. But it’s especially painful when your team loses in the national championship game. Being that close and then coming up short stings even worse than not getting there at all, although you can’t help but feel pride in the way your team competed.

This Kansas run was unlike any other I’ve experienced as a Jayhawk fan because, even though they were a No. 2 seed, I never imagined that they could reach the national championship game this season. Think about the fact that the Jayhawks lost four starters from last season’s team; that Thomas Robinson had started only three games in his career coming into this season, and that the ‘Hawks roster was filled with a bunch of role-players like Jeff Withey and Travis Releford.

This was supposed to be a down year in Lawrence, but head coach Bill Self did a remarkable job–probably the best of his career –in turning this group into the national runner-up. I would compare Kansas to the 2000 Florida Gators, 2002 Indiana, or 2009 Michigan State. The run was awesome, but in the end we all knew that Kentucky was the better team. You can’t be too upset about losing to them, no matter how much you’d like to take a hedge trimmer to Anthony Davis’ unibrow and punch the smug Calipari in the gut.

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Categories: 2012 Final Four

March Madness Classics: Michigan vs. Kentucky in 1993 Final Four

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

On the eve of the Final Four, how about we go back in time to some old-school college basketball? The Fab Five of Michigan take on this 1993 Kentucky squad led by Rick Pitino in one of the classic Final Four battles that people forget about.

Could Kentucky defeat an NBA team? No. But are they the best team of the past decade?

March 29, 2012 1 comment

By: Kels Dayton

The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats are clearly the best team in college basketball. It’s not even close. Kentucky has the best player (Anthony Davis), another top-five NBA draft pick (Michael Kidd-Glichrist), two other first-rounders (Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague) and a loaded bench.

Now, the question many people have been asking is, “Could Kentucky defeat a bad NBA team?”

The answer?

Could Kentucky defeat an NBA team? Ummm, no. But are the Wildcats the best team of the past decade? (AP Photo/Streeter Lecka)

Of course not. The worst team in the league in 2012 are the Washington Wizards, and they would run these Wildcats by 30 points–in D.C., in Rupp, on the moon- wherever.

Remember, UK may have four or five NBA players, but an NBA team has 13 NBA players. I know…it’s like a riddle or something. But seriously, how stupid can you be?

But are the Wildcats the best team of the past decade? We say–emphatically–no.

There are at least five other national champions that have taken the court since 2002 who would take down the Wildcats. They’re listed below. (And don’t forget 2009 Connecticut, 2008 UCLA, 2008 Memphis, 2008 North Carolina, 2006 Florida, and 2005 Illinois, all of whom would have given Big Blue a serious run).

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2009 NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (33-4,  Def. Michigan State 89-72 in Nat’l Final)

Starting Lineup:

Streeter Lecka

G Ty Lawson (16.6 ppg, 6.6 apg, 2.1 spg, Second-team All-American)- Now averages 15.6 points, 6.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds as the starting point guard for the Denver Nuggets

G Wayne Ellington (15.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .483 FG pct)- Now a key contributor for the Minnesota Timberwolves (18.5 min per game)

C Tyler Hansbrough (20.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, Nat’l Player of Year)- Now a key reserve for Indiana Pacers (9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg)

F Danny Green (13.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.7 apg)- Now with the San Antonio Spurs (8.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg)

F Deon Thompson (10.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg)- Now plays professionally in Europe

Key Reserves:  F Ed Davis (6.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg)- was the No. 11 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, now a reserve for Toronto Raptors

TEAM OVERVIEW: The ’09 Tar Heels were the clear-cut class of college basketball in 2009, winning 33 games and  obliterating everyone in their path on their way to the national title. The Heels rolled through the NCAAs, defeating opponents by an average of 20.1 points per game and embarrassing Michigan State, 89-72, in the title game in Detroit. Point guard Ty Lawson was the fastest man in college basketball, and has turned out to be a rising star in the NBA. Big man Tyler Hansbrough is a Carolina legend, and has turned out to be a pretty good NBA player in his own right. In all, the Heels had six players who are currently on NBA rosters.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: This team is much more experienced, and every bit as talented. Tyler Hansbrough‘s muscle and indomitable will inside would neutralize the ever-improving Anthony Davis, who despite all his physical gifts would have a heck of a time trying to guard Hansbrough. Carolina also had tremendous length in Ed Davis and F Tyler Zeller coming off the bench, and a pair of terrific three-point shooters in Danny Green and the rattlesnake-deadly Wayne Ellington on the wing.

FINAL SCORE:  2009 North Carolina 95, 2012 Kentucky 85

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2008 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (37-3, Def. Memphis, 75-68 in Nat’l Final)


The '08 Jayhawks were devastating on defense. (KU Sports.com)

Starting Lineup:

G Mario Chalmers (12.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.1 rpg, 2.5 spg)- Big-shot Mario was a defensive dynamo. Now the starting point guard and a three-point specialist for the Miami Heat (9.9 ppg, 3.4 apg, 1.5 spg)

G Russell Robinson (7.3 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.0 spg)- One of the great defensive guards in Kansas history. Now plays in the NBDL.

C Darnell Jackson (11.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg)- Heart and soul of this Jayhawks team. Now plays for the Sacramento Kings (currently injured).

F Brandon Rush (13.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.1 apg)- Terrific defender and scorer, and unselfish passer. Now a key player with the Golden State Warriors.

F Darrell Arthur (12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg)-Athletic, polished big man would be a very tough matchup for Kentucky. Now a key reserve with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Key Reserves: 

G Sherron Collins (9.3 ppg, 4.1 apg)- Collins was a reserve in name only. Played in crunch time for Kansas, remains a legend with the Jayhawks for clutch steal and three-pointer in title game, 2009 first-team All-American. Signed a rookie contract with Charlotte Bobcats. Now plays in Europe.

C Sasha Kaun (7.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg)- Played big minutes for the ‘Hawks. Now plays professionally in Europe.

F Cole Aldrich (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg)- Had a coming-out party in ’08 Final Four. Now a reserve with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Chalmers' shot remains one of the indelible images of March. (AP Photo)

TEAM OVERVIEW: The ’08 Jayhawks had six–count ’em–six players who saw time in the NBA. Five still remain on NBA rosters. This was an incredibly balanced team, with all four of the five starters averaging in double figures. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson made up probably the best defensive backcourt in the past decade in college hoops, and Sherron Collins was a big-time scorer and distributor coming off the bench.

The Jayhawks were absolutely loaded up front, with NBA guys Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, and Cole Aldrich and key cog Sasha Kaun roaming the paint. This was probably the best defensive team of the past decade, and Kansas won the national title in a year in which Kevin Love’s UCLA team and Derrick Rose’s Memphis team each participated in the Final Four. The overall talent level in college hoops was better in ’08, as all four number one seeds reached the Final Four. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how good this Kansas team was is to point out that it led virtually the exact same North Carolina team you just read about 40-12 at one point in the National Semifinal game.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: Like the ’09 Tar Heels, this team was far more experienced than this year’s Kentucky squad. 2008 Kansas was absolutely menacing in the backcourt, and overpowering up front. The Jayhawks had so much balance and power that any one of their top eight guys could go for 25 and 10, but they played with such a cohesiveness and a togetherness that that never happened. Kansas would wear down today’s Wildcats and force them to shoot deep jumpers. They’d control the pace of the game, and pull away at the end in a decisive victory.

FINAL SCORE: 2008 Kansas 82, 2012 Kentucky 69

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2007 FLORIDA GATORS (34-5, Def. Ohio State, 84-75 in Nat’l Final)

These trio of Gators have done pretty well for themselves in the NBA. (AP Photo)

Starting Lineup:

G Taurean Green (13.3 ppg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg)- Led the team in scoring, spent 3 seasons in NBA. Now plays in Europe.

G Lee Humphrey (10.3 ppg, .459 3-pt FG Pct)-Sharpshooting guard now plays in the NBDL.

C Joakim Noah (12.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.9 bpg)-Defensive menace, outstanding college player. Now starts for the Chicago Bulls.

F Corey Brewer (13.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg)- Solid defender, versatile scorer. Now with NBA’s Denver Nuggets.

F Al Horford (13.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg)-Best NBA player on this team. Great young forward with the Atlanta Hawks, although injured this year.

KEY RESERVES: C Chris Richard (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg), C Mareese Speights (4.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg)- Now with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

Getty Images

TEAM OVERVIEW: Has everyone forgotten about this Florida team, which won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007? The Gators boasted three NBA players in their starting lineup, two of whom have gone on to outstanding careers in the league. Joakim Noah and Al Horford have both carved up quite a niche in the NBA, with Noah being a starter and defensive stalwart on the best team in the league (record-wise), and Horford twice earning a spot in the All-Star game.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: These Gators would punch Kentucky in the mouth. 2006-07 Florida became the first team since 1991-92 Duke to repeat as national champions, and they were loaded with juniors and seniors, which is an anomaly in today’s college game. Florida had the size to overwhelm young Anthony Davis on the backboard, and sharpshooting Lee Humphrey was always there to knock down the big 3 when the Gators needed it. Although they had a habit of playing down to their competition, this Gators team showed up when it mattered most. They were just too good  for the 2012 ‘Cats.

FINAL SCORE: 2007 Florida 82, 2012 Kentucky 73
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2004 CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (27-6, Def. Georgia Tech, 82-73 in Nat’l Final)

Emeka Okafor and the Huskies dominated opponents that season. (Getty Images)

Starting Lineup:

G Taliek Brown (6.3 ppg, 7.5 apg, 3.9 rpg)- Maybe the best floor general in UConn history; uncanny defender. Now playing in Canada.

G Ben Gordon (18.5 ppg, 4.7 apg)- Gordon was the go-to scorer on this team, and the Huskies’ best offensive player. He now balls with the Detroit Pistons.

C Emeka Okafor (17.6 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 4.1 bpg, First team All-American)- Okafor was the best player in college basketball in 2004. He was taken with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, and now plays for the New Orleans Hornets.

F Rashad Anderson (11.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg)- Sharpshooting sniper for UConn in ’04, could catch fire and hit 9 threes in a row. Also a money crunch-time shooter.

F Josh Boone (5.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)- Boone was just a freshman in ’04, but he became a big-time presence down low as the season wore on. Played four seasons with the Nets, now plays in Europe.

Key Reserves: F Charlie Villanueva (8.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), now with the Detroit Pistons, F Hilton Armstrong (2.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg), played five NBA seasons  F Denham Brown (8.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg).

TEAM OVERVIEW: Anyone who watched college basketball in 2004 remembers that the Huskies were far and away the best team in America. UConn rolled through the NCAA Tournament, winning its first four games by margins of 17, 17, 20, and 16. The Huskies also barreled No. 3 Georgia Tech in the national championship game, leading by as many as 22 points in a convincing 82-73 victory. UConn was balanced both inside and out with Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor, and became the first team since Kentucky in 1996 to go from Preseason No. 1 in September to national champion in April.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: Once again, UConn was much more experienced than the Wildcats are, and the Huskies may have been just as talented. Okafor was as dominant a force as there has been in the past decade in college basketball. Connecticut had six players who went on to play in the NBA, and has four who are still balling there eight years later. Point guard Taliek Brown would abuse Marquis Teague in the backcourt, and Gordon is a better player than anyone Kentucky can put on the wing. (Yes, that includes Kidd-Gilchrist). Remember, Okafor and Gordon went No. 2 and No. 3 in the NBA Draft that year, and Villanueva was a lottery pick the following season.

FINAL SCORE: 2004 UConn 79, 2012 Kentucky 77

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2003 SYRACUSE ORANGEMEN (24-5, Def. Kansas 81-78 in Nat’l Final)

This would be a scary sight for Kentucky fans if they had to face the '03 Orange. (AP Photo)

Starting Lineup: 

G Gerry McNamara (13.3 ppg, 4.4 apg)- Only a freshman in ’03, McNamara hit a record six three-pointers in the NCAA championship game.

G Kueth Duany (11.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg)-Duany was a good shooter, but had the size at 6-6 to match up with UK’s Kidd-Gilchrist or Jones on the wing.

C Craig Forth (3.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)- His size (7-1) would provide the biggest challenge to Davis, but Forth wasn’t a great collegian.

F Carmelo Anthony (22.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg)- The only name that really matters on this team, outside of McNamara. NBA superstar with the New York Knicks.

F Hakim Warrick (14.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg)- Just a sophomore that season, but came away with the biggest play in Syracuse history with his block on Kansas’ Michael Lee with 3 seconds to play. Now plays for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

Key Reserves: G Josh Pace (4.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg), G Billy Edelin (9.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg)

TEAM OVERVIEW: This wasn’t the best team in 2003, but Syracuse came together at the perfect time behind freshmen Gerry McNamara and Carmelo Anthony, who remains the lone one-and-done college superstar to lead his team to an NCAA championship. McNamara was a clutch shooter, and would go on to become one of the greatest guards in Syracuse history. He didn’t have a great professional career, and is now a Syracuse assistant, but McNamara was just plain scary in the big spot in college. Anthony of course led the way for this Syracuse team, coming through with a historic NCAA Tournament performance, averaging 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

WHY THEY’D BEAT KENTUCKY: This is the best matchup of all of the teams we’ve listed. Much like 2012 Kentucky, ’03 Syracuse was loaded with talented freshmen and sophomores. Kentucky may have more NBA talent, but there’s little chance that any of the Wildcats will turn out to be as good as Carmelo Anthony in the pros. The ‘Cuse was just as long inside as Kentucky is, with Warrick, Anthony and Forth flanking the front line. Even Duany had size, and he was a capable defender. Throw in McNamara‘s shooting ability and propensity for making big plays, and Syracuse takes out the ‘Cats in an awesome game.

FINAL SCORE: 2003 Syracuse 85, 2012 Kentucky 84

How Louisville’s Peyton Siva saved his father’s life, and then his team’s season

March 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Louisville’s Peyton Siva saved his father’s life at age thirteen. So saving Louisville’s season in 2012 was just a bit easier.

By: Kels Dayton

As the sun fades into the Bayou sky on Saturday evening, Louisville’s Peyton Siva, Jr. will be in a place most of us could never imagine.

Louisville guard Peyton Siva has been through more than most of us could imagine. (AP Photo)

Front and center in the New Orleans Superdome. The bright lights illuminating him and his teammates in front of 72,000 delirious fans and millions more watching on television. Taking the court in the biggest game of his life, against his school’s most heated rival, with everything at stake.

Only, at 21 years old, Siva will understand that everything isn’t at stake. Because he’s already been there when it was.

Thirteen years old. Behind the wheel of his older brother’s Dodge; driving through the darkest alleys and shadiest streets of Seattle.

Searching for his father.

Peyton Siva Sr. had been missing for days, lost in a whirling torrent of drinking, drugs, and gang life that had finally reached its crest.

He was going to take his own life.

His son had already been through plenty of nights without his father before, but this one was different.

This wasn’t like those other times when Peyton Jr. sat alone at home with his mother; his dad, older brother and sister all locked up.

The youngest of three children somehow sensed that his father’s despair had reached its climax.

Something had to be done.

So Peyton Jr. implored his mother for any clues on his father’s whereabouts, and at an age when most children would be finishing their algebra homework or diving into the next round of Call of Duty, he set out into the night to find his father.

“Any kid would have done it,” Siva Jr. explained to reporters after practice at the NCAA Tournament in Portland, Ore. “There’s nothing spectacular about it. I was just doing what I could to help,” he said.

His father certainly needed him. After years of gang life, drugs, violence, and stints in and out of jail, Peyton Sr. had hit rock bottom. He had begun his wayward journey shortly after his own dad had passed away at the age of 52. Siva Sr. had spent the majority of his children’s lives as an absent father.

“I was dealing with a lot of issues from my upbringing,” Siva Sr. told AOL’s Lisa Olson. “With [my father] gone, I was in a world where I didn’t care. I had all the reasons to care, but I just didn’t have the tools.”

So he decided on that fateful night in 2003 that he had enough. He had witnessed murders and been shot himself in the past, and was ready to end the painful cycle of gang life on his own terms.

“I was drinking, using [drugs], basically out of my mind at that time,” he said. “I had a gun, ready to use. A whole bunch of things were going through my head…I couldn’t think,” he said.

Imagine the thoughts that must have been running through Siva Sr.’s mind when he watched as his 13 year-old son pulled up alongside him on a rain-soaked Seattle street.

“What are you doing here?!” he asked.

“I came to pick you up, dad.”

Siva Sr. said he couldn’t do anything but jump in the car.

In his disconsolate, drugged-out state, he needed to listen to what his son had to say.

Peyton Siva and his father are as close today as father and son can be. (Michael Hayman/Courier Journal)

“I found him and y’know, he was really depressed,” Peyton Jr. told CBS Sports Network in an interview earlier this year. “He said he didn’t want to live anymore and I was just like, that’s stupid. That’s being selfish.”

“Why would you want to take your life when you have other people around you that care about you?” Siva Jr. said. “You’re not the only person in the world, like, stop thinking about yourself.”

“Dad, I know you love me and I know you’d do anything to be there for me,” the young Siva told his father.

“I really need you right now.”

Siva Sr. recalled his son saying that he would do anything, get good grades, go to church, whatever it took to get his father to turn his life around.

“I sat there, and we just cried our tears out; our eyes out.” Siva Sr. said. “He saved me.”

The father tossed his gun into a garbage can and laid back his head, tears streaming down his face as his son drove him home.

“I should have been dead,” he told AOL’s Olson.

“But that was my turnaround, knowing my son had so much heart that he came to find me. Here he is, 13 years old, he don’t even have a driver’s license,” he said.

“That’s my love,” Siva Sr. said before emotion got the best of him in another interview with CN2’s Chip Cosby.

Peyton Jr. is Louisville's team captain, and has led the Cardinals on a magical ride to the Final Four. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

And now, as Peyton Jr. leads the Louisville Cardinals on one of the most improbable NCAA Tournament runs in school history, his father can reflect on the remarkable redemption the two of them have shared.

“He never gave up on me, and I’m not giving up, Pey-Pey, I’m not giving up.” Siva Sr. said.

Peyton Jr. is now a junior at Louisville, and after a career filled with injuries and at times inconsistent play, he has finally reached the potential that made him a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school.

The 6-0, 180-pound guard was named team captain at the beginning of the season, and has averaged 11.4 points and 6.4 assists per game in leading the Cardinals to eight straight wins, a Big East championship, and now a trip to the Final Four.

“He’s our leader,” senior guard Kyle Kuric told the New York Times. “He sets the mind-set for the rest of us to follow.”

“He’s our most important player,” said head coach Rick Pitino. “He’s been a leader on this team since day one, and that’s part of the reason why I say that I’m as happy for this group of players getting to the Final Four as I have been in my entire career.”

“I appreciate all the time my dad not pulling the trigger and putting the gun back,” Siva Jr. said. “Because I don’t know where I would be, honestly.”

“I’m just grateful for him being here. He’s here by the grace of God.

Information from the New York Times, The Sporting News, CN2 News, and CBS Sports was used in this report.

Categories: 2012 Final Four

Louisville’s Peyton Siva saves his father’s life at age 13

March 27, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

Louisville’s Peyton Siva knows the true meaning of leadership. He’s been places most of us could never imagine. At age 13, Siva saved his father’s life by talking him out of suicide. This is the best story of the Final Four, and CBS Sports captures it in this wonderful video piece. Roundball Daily.com will have much more on this story, but for now check out these video pieces, and the two below, including one that really shows off Siva’s wonderful personality. Powerful stuff.

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Categories: 2012 Final Four

2012 Final Four Preview: Ten Burning Questions about the Final Four in New Orleans

March 26, 2012 6 comments

BY: Kels Dayton

You have Final Four questions. We have answers. Long-winded answers, sure, but answers nonetheless. Kels Dayton spent Monday pouring over the thousands upon thousands of mailbag questions he received, and whittled them down to ten mind-blowing questions that burn with the fire of a thousand suns. He then answered them with the knowledge and insight of  Yoda or that particularly bright homeless guy on the side of the road. Okay, so he made up the questions. And that homeless guy is definitely more knowledgeable. But still…read on. 

Q: How impressive is it that Kansas has reached the Final Four? 

Thomas Robinson and Kansas outmuscled North Carolina on their way to the Final Four. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Pretty freakin’ impressive. Kansas lost four starters from last year’s 33-win team, including lottery picks Marcus and Markieff Morris and Josh Selby.

It appeared as though it was going to be a down year in Lawrence, but coach Bill Self just doesn’t do ‘down’ years. Self coaxed yet another conference championship out of this bunch, helped turn Thomas Robinson from a role-playing reserve to a National Player of the Year candidate, and instilled his team with the confidence it needed to play as well as it has.

Tyshawn Taylor is an eye-rolling x-factor, but he has been “Good Tyshawn” a lot more than “Bad Tyshawn” in this tournament. Taylor is capable of putting the team on his back and carrying the Jayhawks during stretches, although just as capable of turning the ball over in spectacularly dumb fashion.

Elijah Johnson has emerged as a big-time shot-maker in the clutch, and Jeff Withey‘s steady improvement mirrors that of Cole Aldrich during the 2008 Final Four. All of that can be credited to Self, who has guided this young team to heights no one outside of the Jayhawks locker room believed was possible this season.

Q:What is the most impressive thing about these student-athletes?

If you’ve ever been to a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 NCAA Tournament game, you know that the atmosphere in the building is absolutely incredible.

There are upwards of 40,000 screaming fans, usually in a giant football stadium with a basketball court plopped aimlessly in the middle. Every move you make is dissected more intensely than a pig in science class. Every dribble, every shot is packed with enough pressure to make your water heater explode like a North Korean missile.

And forget about hiding. Unlike other sports, you can’t duck under a hat or helmet. You’re not lost in the middle of the offensive line, where the majority of the people in the stadium don’t notice your existence.

I wouldn’t have the nerve to dribble the ball up the court in that type of atmosphere. And yet, these kids excel in this situation. No one completely loses their mind. The confidence it takes to perform on the level in which they are demanded to in front of that many people at 18, 19, 20 years old is remarkable. It is amazing, and certainly worth mention in today’s cutthroat sports culture.

Q: Can anyone beat Kentucky?

Anthony Davis and the Wildcats are the prohibitive favorites to cut the nets down in New Orleans. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It’s going to be ridiculously tough.

The Wildcats are clearly the best team in this field, and probably the best college basketball team since 2008, when Kansas won the National Championship and Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA were stacked with future pros.

Kentucky turned a 10-5 deficit into a 21-10 lead in the blink of an eye against Baylor, and thoroughly punished the Bears in a dominant Elite Eight performance.

The Wildcats have been head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest of the field this season, and as Westwood One radio’s John Thompson said, “It’s scary when the best team is playing the best in the tournament.”

It’s going to take a monumental performance from one of the other three teams in this Final Four to knock off the ‘Cats.

Q: Which team has the best chance?

 Ohio State appears to be the biggest threat to the Wildcats because of their size and talent inside.

Forward Jared Sullinger is an absolute beast down low, and the versatile Deshaun Thomas may actually present some matchup problems for the ‘Cats, because he carries a lot of weight in the paint. (Sorry to go all Clark Kellogg on you there). 

Point guard Aaron Craft may be the best defensive guard in the nation, and if William Buford gets hot, the Buckeyes have plenty of weapons to hang with the Wildcats.

They are also one of the best half-court scoring teams in the nation, which is one weakness Kentucky has shown (kind of).

Q: Can Louisville pull a 2011 UConn and stun the country and the ‘Commonwealth’ in the National Semis?

Louisville is an incredible story, but can the Cardinals knock out Kentucky on the biggest stage in their rivalry's history? (Christopher Hainewickel/US Presswire)

It would be the greatest moment in Louisville history, and probably the best moment in the history of basketball in Kentucky.

The problem with all of the comparisons to last year’s UConn team is that Louisville doesn’t have the one ingredient that UConn had that took them from Big East also-ran to national champ–Kemba Walker.

Peyton Siva is a terrific player, and the young Cardinals have stepped up beside him; much in the way that UConn’s young guns played way over their heads in 2011. But no one would argue that Siva is the nation’s best player, just like no one after the NCAA Tournament last season would argue that Kemba wasn’t the best in America.

It would be STUNNING–all-caps–if Louisville took down Kentucky on Saturday evening. But don’t think for one second that Rick Pitino isn’t reminding his team about how big of an underdog it is heading into this game. The Cardinals will be about as motivated as you can possibly be to play in a basketball game, and Kentucky will have to match their passion.

Q: What would it take for Kansas to cut down the nets? 

Travis Releford and the Jayhawks are on an amazing ride. (Photo: Robert Cohen/St. Louis Dispatch)

Thomas Robinson would have to channel Vince Young-circa 2005 and come out absolutely determined to prove that he deserves the National Player of the Year Award. Young was upset that Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy in ’05, and vowed to show the nation why he was the best player in college football that year in the National Championship game against USC.

If Robinson comes out with a personal vendetta against rival big men Jared Sullinger and Anthony Davis, he could help write a similar script. Of course, that Texas team was a season-long juggernaut that edged USC in one of the biggest clashes of heavyweights in sports history. If Kansas defeats Kentucky on Monday night in New Orleans, it will go down as one of the bigger upsets in college basketball history.

Q: What will we remember about this tournament 20 years from now?

Jim Nantz will be waxing poetically about Norfolk State for years to come. (Photo: ESPN)

Norfolk State and Lehigh came up with two of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, and they happened within 3 hours of each other. Those games were the kind of moments that Jim Nantz will describe as “indelible” as he warm-heartedly narrates them in video pieces for years to come. This year’s tournament wasn’t as crazy as the past two year’s, and it hasn’t had that one buzzer-beating game that distinguished itself as unique.

Still, with two 15-seeds taking out No. 2’s, a dominant juggernaut in Kentucky marching towards John Calipari’s first-ever national championship (until it is vacated five years from now), and an incredible rivalry game taking place in the Final Four, this has been a memorable NCAA Tournament.

All it would take for it to become even more special is for someone to knock out the Wildcats in spectacular fashion. But even if Kentucky storms its way to the title, this has been a fun NCAA Tournament and one that will remain memorable for years to come.

Q: Is Tim Tebow the Christian Laettner of football?

Christian Laettner would be just as annoying as Tim Tebow if he played today. (Photo: ESPN)

Yes. Great college player…awful in the pros. Like Tebow, Laettner won two national championships in college, captivated the nation because of the fact that he was extraordinarily successful, white, and extremely polarizing. If Laettner had played today, there would be Laettnermania, although it may not have approached the ridiculous heights of Tebowmania.

Q: What is the main thing that could derail Kentucky in the Final Four?

Foul trouble is always a concern, and Ohio State has the bigs to put Anthony Davis on the bench for a while. Still, Kentucky is too deep, and will need to struggle from the field against a tough Buckeyes defense in order to be slipped up.

Q: Is Kentucky the best team of the past decade?

WFAN’s Mike Francesa remarked today that he thought Kentucky was the best team of the past decade, which gives life to this absurd topic. Francesa then followed that comment up by saying that he thinks that Kansas is not well coached. So yeah, he’s got zero credibility left when it comes to college basketball.

It is amazing how short people’s memories are. Kentucky has four or five pros and is clearly the best team in 2012, but they aren’t the best collection of talent the game has seen in the past decade. Give me 2009 North Carolina, 2008 Kansas, 2004 Connecticut, or even 2007 Florida, which by the way, won back-to-back national titles. Kentucky seems more dominant this year because the competition isn’t close to what it has been in the past, but they aren’t as good as those teams, particularly ’08 Kansas, which beat a team led by Derrick Rose in the national final.

The 2008 Jayhawks would handle this Wildcat team.