The NCAA Final Four is Set - Plus NIT Final Four Previews




This year's NCAA Tournament Final Four is absolutely brimming with basketball blue-bloods - now the $64,000 question is will be "blue-est blood" of 'em all wind up cutting down the nets next Monday night inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis?

Ahh, perhaps you thought we had - for a moment, at least - forgotten all about the numero uno story line that is the 38-and-oh Kentucky Wildcats (we didn't!) but what's really great now is no matter who wins it all this year in the NCAA Tourney will have earned it as this is a blockbuster Final Four that features three head coaches with championship backgrounds and some 25 Final Four berths among this quartet of teams.

You probably already know this having watched all the post-game highlight shows but we'll tell you anyway that Duke will be playing in its 12th Final Four under Mike Krzyzewski who won titles back in 1991, '92, 2001 and 2010;

Then there's Michigan State head coach Tim Izzo who is making his seventh trip to a Final Four with a 2000 championship in the bank;

Kentucky's John Calipari is heading to his fourth Final Four trip the past five years with a title back in 2012;

And finally there's Wisconsin head ball coach Bo Ryan who is the only guy in town here not with a single national title but this makes it back-to-back Final Four showings for his veteran/savvy bunch of Badgers.

Save for the 2008 NCAA Tournament when all four #1 seeds made it to the Final Four - Kansas beat Memphis in overtime that year, remember - this might well be the richest collection of hoops talent and coaching know-how in Final Four history.

So, enjoy!

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have been steamrolling their way through the month of March with loads of College Basketball winners and it ain't gonna stop yet now that we're about ready to hit April! Get in now on the NCAA Tournament's Final Four, the NIT semifinal round and Thursday's Championship Game plus the remaining CBI and CIT Tournies too - go online or call our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 and we'll send you straight into the winner's circle. Hey, we're also banging out lots of NBA Winners too these days and so go ahead and join the fun and profits today with all the hardwood action this month.

Here's some quick-hitter looks at the Final Four teams with a reminder that we'll have game previews/team charts/etc. all this week long right here at Jim Sez:

The first team to punch its Final Four ticket this weekend past were these Badgers who, among other things, drained 10-of-12 triples in the second half of its electrifying 85-78 win against 1.5-point favorite Arizona and showed that they could be crafty in getting the Wildcats' big men in foul trouble ... a major key in that Elite 8 win in Los Angeles.

Okay, so the super-duper keys there were the one-two combo of Frank Kaminsky (29 points) and effervescent F Sam Dekker who drilled home 5-of-6 triple tries and finished with 27 points - heck, even Green Bay Packers QB/big-time Wisky fan Aaron Rodgers called Dekker "cold-blooded" after this one - but now that this Big 10 team is back in the Final Four a second straight year you do get the sense that it will be a better, more relaxed team that hits the floor come Saturday night against still-perfect Kentucky and that loosey-goosey feel is A-OK with Rekker who right now is neck-and-neck with Duke's Justise Winslow for the Most Outstanding Player vote at this stage of the tourney.

Go ahead and admit it: You thought the Kentucky Wildcats were cooked more than once in last Saturday's thrilling 68-66 win against 11-point underdog Notre Dame and the odds are nobody (even in the 859 Lexington area code) could have forecast that Calipari's team was gonna make its final nine FG tries in a true survive-and-advance special.

So, now you wonder if that is the only "white knuckler" that Kentucky's gonna have to win in this here-and-now tourney or whether the close-call win keyed by C Karl-Anthony Towns' 25 points signifies that these 'Cats are "human" after all.

Consider that Kentucky shot 53.2 percent from the floor against Notre Dame and still needed a last-second corner shot by the Irish's Jerian Grant to go high and wide to win - note that for much of the evening Notre Dame effectively spread the floor and forced the Kentucky big men to have to scat back to the paint and thus much of their height/effectiveness was neutralized but whether the ball movement by Wisconsin will be as good/sharp here remains to be seen.

In any event, the 'Cats did manage to crawl back from a six-point deficit with five-plus minutes remaining on a night when the famed Harrison twins combined for only 13 points and somehow lived to talk about it ... okay, coach, we get it as your guys aren't "perfect" but they're still chasing history!

Maybe you caught that CBS graphic that claimed the Louisville Cardinals had won their last 94 consecutive games when leading by 6-or-more points at halftime ... chuck that one in the old garbage pail, thanks to this never-say-die Michigan State Spartans squad. Okay, so Tom Izzo's seventh trip into the Final Four may well be his most satisfying one ever considering his club lost that heart-breaking Big 10 Championship Game in OT versus Wisconsin just a couple of weeks and then settled for an also-ran seed but Sparty has emerged as the only non-#1 seed left in this man's tourney and take your pick as to what's most important for this club as PG Travis Trice (17 points but on 5-of-15 FG shooting against Louisville) and active G Denzell Valentine (15 points versus the Cards) have been the team's best players in this tournament but don't overlook that key bank shot with 31 seconds left by oft-invisible Branden Dawson.

In other words, if Michigan State can get some semblance of 50 points from this trio and if the woeful FT shooting just stays average (see a better-than-average 15-of-20 FT makes on Sunday) then Team Izzo might write this year's title tome from a #7 seed (see last year's #7 UConn club).

Believe it or not, the Blue Devils now have won 103 NCAA Tournament games in their storied hoops history but the one that sent 'em into this weekend's Final Four was a true gut-check special: The Dookies shook off a sluggish start to the second half and stone-walled 1.5-point underdog Gonzaga 66-52 while holding the offensively-potent 'Zags to just 18 points in the game's final 16-plus minutes.
Tell us right now that Coach K's club is gonna play lights out defense like that here against Michigan State and then the winner of Kentucky vs. Wisconsin and we'll give this ACC squad more than just a "puncher's chance" to win this year's crown.

Okay, so much is being made of the fact freshman C Jahlil Okafor (just 9 points against Gonzaga) was pretty much a non-factor in that Elite 8 win last Sunday but consider that his post presence alone opened things up for the likes of guards Tyus and Matt Jones (a combined 31 points ... and just where did the latter Jones come from!) and tourney star F Winslow who scored 16 points including a pair of rather large trifectas.

And while we're at it, a round of applause for the defensive showing of G Quinn Cook who bottled up overrated PG Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga fame. Yes, Duke was a #1 seed heading into this tourney but it's kept a real focus whenever things have gotten tight - a good sign heading into Final Four-land.


Note: We have included all the conferences/leagues that have two-or-more pointspread verdicts in this year's NCAA Tournament - so this is how things looked spreadwise while heading into this weekend's Final Four:

Big East740.636
Big 10970.563
Sun Belt110.500
Mt. West220.500
Mo. Valley230.400
West Coast230.400
Big 12480.333
  • Take note that Wisconsin has split its four NCAA Tournament pointspread decisions this month;
  • Kentucky has failed to cover three of its four games in this year's tourney;
  • Michigan State has notched spread wins in all four of its NCAA Tournament games;
  • And Duke also has covered all four of its NCAA Tournament games ...
  • So the collection of Final Four teams enters this weekend's game at a composite 11-5 ATS (against the spread) during this year's "Big Dance".


Tuesday, March 31 - at Madison Square Garden, NY

MIAMI (24-12) vs. TEMPLE (26-10) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Miami Hurricanes' head coach Jim Larranaga is home - he's the one-time school-boy start at Molloy High School in Queens - and now his team is taking dead aim at an NIT crown that seemed so far away when the ACC crew was down 18 points last week in that eventual 63-61 win at Richmond. Now, look for that game's top hero - Sheldon McClellan (team-leading 14.4 ppg and 51 triple makes) -- to be the center stage performer here against a Temple team that isn't a great FG percentage offense even though leading scorer Will Cummings (14.9 ppg) never is shy about hoisting it up.

STANFORD (22-13) vs. OLD DOMINION (27-7) - approximately 9:25 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Stanford Cardinal seniors are coming full circle - as freshmen four years ago they won the NIT crown and now Anthony Brown (season-high 26 points in last week's 78-75 non-cover win against 4.5-point underdog Vanderbilt), G Chasson Randle and mates are looking or more hardware from New York City but underrated Old Dominion - the seventh-best defensive team in America (allowing 56.8 ppg) looks to gun up the works for a Cardinal club that own NIT titles in both 1991 and 2012. Let's see if Monarchs G Trey Freeman has any more magic up his sleeve following that game-winning hoist that beat Murray State last week.

NOTE: More NCAA Tournament Final Four News & Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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