Here is the one guarantee I can make about the Final Four: Sportswriters will have no trouble meeting deadlines with this group. The storylines are endless. We’ve got the traditional powers in Duke and Michigan State. Three of the best coaches in the history of college basketball will be there – including Bob Huggins looking for his first National Championship. And of course, there’s always Butler’s Cinderella story as it tries to become the first team from a mid-major conference to win it all since UNLV did so two decades ago.
Only one thing will be missing in Indianapolis.
For the first time since the inception of the NBA draft lottery, it’s likely that no one playing in the Final Four will be selected in the first 14 picks of June’s draft. In fact, NBAdraft.net projects West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler to be the only two guys playing in Indianapolis that will be drafted at all. When you combine the lack of NBA prospects and the amount of upsets that took place earlier in the tournament, this might be the most diluted Final Four in the history of college basketball.
So is it worth watching? Well, if you went to Duke, West Virginia, Michigan State or Butler, then sure. But be prepared for what could be the lowest scoring Final Four since the shot clock was implemented 24 years ago. You’ll see three defensive-minded, fundamentally sound games that should all remain close if for no other reason than none of the four teams have a guy who could take over a game and win it by himself. It will be the type of basketball you’ll want your 8 year-old son to pay attention to; but chances are he’ll want to change the channel to watch something with a little faster pace, like that P90X infomercial.
Me? I’ll keep track of the score, but without Kentucky involved, it’s going to be hard to keep me glued to the television. Any John Calipari-led program has replaced Duke as the most polarizing team in college athletics and something is just missing without him. He’s just so easy to root against. And Thursday night’s matchup with Cornell was the closest thing we’ll ever see to the 1980 USSR/USA hockey game. It was pro versus Joes. Future lottery picks and the guys who will represent them in court someday. Only the bad guys, led by Calipari, won.
It’s too bad those NBA-ordered mandatory minimum essentially become contract years for players, because as good as Kentucky was this season, they would have probably advanced further if they could have dropped that “I gotta get mine” mentality. And no matter how you feel about Calipari, the Final Four would be much more exciting with him in it.
Even without Calipari, this week will still be all about the coaches. Krzyzewski, Izzo, Huggins and the new kid on the block, Brad Stevens. College basketball has always been more about the guys who build programs than the kids who play in them. And this year, with the Final Four so big on heart and little on talent, will be no different.