A pair of good games tomorrow, interesting in and of themselves, but with additional spice due to the Calipari-Pitino hate-fest laid over UK and Louisville's traditional rivalry with Ohio St - Kansas battling strength against strength with interior presence and dominant defensive point guards.
The UK-Louisville dynamic is volatile enough without adding the fact that Pitino and Calipari are mortal enemies, Pitino's personal reputation has taken recent hits that make Lenny Dykstra recoil in disgust, and Calipari has managed to vacate and probate every school where he's ever had success. The drama also obscures the fact that both coaches have done a wonderful job with their teams.
Pitino (six Final 4 appearances, three with seeds 4 or less) has Louisville playing with junkyard toughness and uses their press to generate some offense and make runs which, while not pretty, have put them in the Big Easy. When Lousville mans up, they hold opponents to 35% shooting and they held UK to 5 of 23 shooting earlier this season. Like UCONN last year, Louisville is playing its best basketball at the right time and they may have the best tactical coach in the college game calling their shots.
Calipari has done an excellent job bonding together another group of one and done mercenaries by persuading them to defend - the hardest learning curve for any freshman - and forcing them to play a selfless brand of team-first basketball in direct contradiction to their Imma Get Mine AAU pedigrees. UK struggles when their point guard struggles and Marcus Teague's ability to handle pressure is paramount. However, UK separates itself by having multiple secondary ball handlers who can exploit a gap in the press and finish at the rim with authority. They also have the best player in college basketball in Anthony Davis.
There are a lot of ways to break down this game: Louisville's pressure vs. a fallible Teague, UK's defense against the Cardinals' feeble outside shooting and how that ignites UK transition, a team of freshmen vs. the bright lights of a national stage - might UK simply crap themselves? When you run all of those permutations, it can be tempting to take the underdog while losing site of the bigger truth: you should generally take the better basketball team. Six guys on UK's team can score 20 against a high level opponent. That's a characteristic I want, experience be damned.
Prediction: Take UK -8
Kansas-Ohio State is a tough breakdown. The off-court drama lacks and both teams are more workmanlike than compelling. They met earlier in the year with Ohio State sans Sullinger and KU won fairly easily. I expect a tightly contested game with both teams having difficulty running their offense when Tyshawn Taylor crawls into Aaron Craft's shorts and Craft returns the favor on the other end of the court. While Robinson and Sullinger are both dominant scorers, both teams will have defensive answers with either length (Withey, KU) or a play side collapse (Ohio St) to hold own the other team's star in key moments.
The game will be decided by support players. Who hits open 3s? Who scores a clutch 13 on 5 of 8 shooting? Do Releford and Johnson knock down their open shots or is it William Buford and Lenzelle Smith?
KU has had an incredibly favorable tournament draw (OSU's hasn't exactly been arduous either) and though I'd like to predict that their luck will run out, I can't help but think Ohio State is a continuation of their luck. The Buckeyes can't shoot well enough to separate themselves from the Jayhawks, they don't do any one thing that particularly scares you, and all of their strengths are negated or curbed by KU competencies. Similarly, Self consistently makes subtle adjustments over the course of a game that tend to end with KU holding an opponent scoreless over 3 or 4 minutes down the stretch.
Ohio State's advantage is that while I mildly prefer KU's stars to the Buckeyes, I prefer Ohio State's role players vastly to KU's.
In a game this closely contested, don't you just take the points? I will. KU with points (+2.5), Ohio State to win, and the under makes sense to me. How's that for a complex bet?
This will serve as your open thread. Thoughts?