Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who wins this year's NCAA title?

After my last two posts, we've found our way to the Final Four with Kansas, Syracuse, West Virginia and Baylor. It's not too far-fetched in my eyes but not too chalky and it includes four of the top 10 teams in college basketball (no, I don't care that Baylor is ranked 17th, look at the Big 12 this season). And yes, I have two Big East-Big 12 matchups picked, since they were hands down the two best conferences this season.

It's a shame that the committee gave Syracuse the last #1 seed because I think the Orange and the Jayhawks are the two best teams in this Final Four, with a slight consolation prize going to West Virginia. Assuming Arinze Onuaku is at full strength by the Final Four, Kansas-Syracuse will pit the two deepest teams in the nation against each other.

Syracuse plays just seven players, but all seven could find their way into almost any starting five in the country. The Jayhawks go eight deep and both teams have great talent at the top. Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry and Marcus Morris all score in double figures for Kansas, while Syraucse has Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson and Onuaku putting up over 10 points per game.

Everyone wonders how Kansas will match up with Syracuse's 2-3 zone and the answer is with great guard play from Collins. He can penetrate the top of that zone and kick it out to open shooters like Henry, Brady Morningstar and Tyshawn Taylor for open threes, which Kansas hits at an impressive 41% clip. And when the defense doesn't collapse on Collins, he's bound to pull up for an elbow jumper or take it to the hoop and finish or dump it to Aldrich for an open dunk. Offensively for the Jayhawks, everything will run through Collins like it has all season.

If Syracuse wants to win this game, they will need to feed the post and try to get the aggressive Aldrich (3.5 BPG) in foul trouble early. Kansas can match Syracuse's depth on the low block but attacking the basket would be much easier without Aldrich, as the Jayhawks have no other players who average more than a block per game.

This rematch of the 2003 national championship should be a great game but I think Kansas will be too much for Syracuse in the end. Call it 73-68, Jayhawks.

A West Virginia-Baylor matchup may have less star power than Syracuse-Kansas...or so you think. LaceDarius Dunn leads Baylor with 19.4 PPG while Tweety Carter and Ekpe Udoh average almost 30 points combined themselves. For the Mountaineers, Da'Sean Butler and his 17.4 scoring average has proven his clutch play and leadership throughout the season and especially in the Big East tournament, beating Cincinnati and Georgetown in the final moments.

I do love how the matchups have shaped up in my Final Four, as both games will pit teams with similar styles and strengths against each other. Butler and Dunn should both have big games, but I can envision Butler with the ball at the end of a close game and we all saw what he could do in those situations. Give me a Mountaineer victory with a Butler basket at the buzzer, 69-67.

That leaves Kansas and West Virginia to battle it out for the title. Not the two best teams in country, but two of the top five for sure. But only one can be the best and it will be the team that started and finished at the top.

The Kansas Jayhawks are the best team in the nation this season with the inside-outside punch of Collins and Aldrich, not to mention a wing player like Henry, interior depth with the Morris twins and ball-moving guards like Morningstar and Taylor who can knock down open shots. West Virginia is an excellent basketball team but not quite on Syracuse's level in terms of depth and that will show against the Jayhawks, who already disposed of the aforementioned Orange.

Butler will get his, as will Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks down low. If West Virginia can shoot well and crash the offensive glass hard when they miss, they might pick up a few extra baskets that could make the difference. But in the end superior guard play and depth will make Kansas into this year's national champion, 76-69.

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