Athlon Editors Discuss 5 Burning College Hoops Questions.
1. There are four great point guards in the Final Four. Which one is your favorite?
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I don’t want to over-think this one. I’ve got to go with Kemba Walker, a first-team All-American who has been playing at an amazingly high level for the past few weeks. Joey Rodriguez at VCU, Shelvin Mack at Butler and Brandon Knight at Kentucky are all very, very good, but Walker is the best.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden): As talented, and clutch, as Brandon Knight has been and as entertaining as Joey Rodriguez can be, how do you not go with Kemba Walker? The step-back buzzer beater against Pitt in the Big East Tournament was a thing of beauty. He is the best scorer of the bunch and has been simply unbeatable (12-0) in any tournament he has played in this season.
Nathan Rush: I’ve been a fan of VCU’s Joey Rodriguez since he, Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes were the state title-winning “Three Amigos” of Orlando’s Lake Howell High. Florida’s Billy Donovan snatched up Parsons and Calathes, while former Gators assistant-turned-VCU coach Anthony Grant (who is now at Alabama) was able to sign Rodriguez to the Rams. J-Rod has been as valuable as any player in this year’s NCAA Tournament — averaging 10.2 points, 7.6 assists (compared to only 2.0 turnovers), 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals over five games. It’s good to finally see Rodriguez getting the national exposure he deserves. He’s my favorite point guard in the Final Four.
2. What is more of a surprise: Butler in its second straight Final Four or VCU making the Final Four?
Mitch: Well, I am more surprised that VCU is in the Final Four, because the Rams were a No. 11 seed and had lost their last four regular-season games in the CAA. But I think Butler making it the Final Four for the second straight season is a bigger story. It is very difficult for make the Final Four once. Just ask BYU, Missouri and Alabama, three schools with over 20 trips to the NCAA Tournament without a Final Four appearance. Butler has now done it two times in a row. It’s truly one of the most amazing stories in college basketball over the past two decades.
Braden: VCU is more surprising in my mind. They have played one more game than everyone else as one of the last teams to make it into the bracket. It really isn’t a shock that a team that played for the national title last season made it back to the Final Four the following year.
Nathan: VCU making the Final Four as a controversial “First Four” at-large bid is definitely more surprising than Butler advancing to the Final Four for the second straight season. The Bulldogs lost Gordon Hayward to the NBA Draft — where he went No. 9 overall to the Jazz — but returned a brilliant coach (Brad Stevens), blue-collar big man (Matt Howard) and clutch lead guard (Shelvin Mack). The Rams, however, lost five of their last eight games before making the NCAA Tournament field of 68. Since then, Shaka Smart’s team has knocked off USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. That’s Shaka-ing to me.
3. Name a role player who will have to step up for his team to win two games in Houston.
Mitch: Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson is one guy who will need to play well, but I will go with Butler freshman Khyle Marshall. He plays about 20 minutes, gives the Bulldogs a little bit of scoring (7.7 ppg in the NCAA Tournament) and some quality work on the boards (6.7 rpg). Marshall, who signed with Butler before last year’s amazing run to the Final Four, is the type of under-the-radar recruit who has put the Bulldogs in position to compete on a national level.
Braden: Anyone named Lamb. Whichever Lamb shows up in the Kentucky vs. UConn game will win the national title. Both UK’s Doron and UConn’s Jeremy can shoot from long range, both are solid passers and both can handle the ball.
Nathan: Kentucky freshman Doron Lamb undoubtedly will shadow Connecticut’s Kemba Walker for much of the UK-UConn showdown. And the Oak Hill product from New York City must play the type of lockdown defense he played for key stretches against North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes in the Elite Eight victory. Offensively, Lamb must continue to knock down open shots from long range — where he shot 48.1 percent (65-of-135) this year, including 62.5 percent (5-of-8) in the NCAA Tournament. Lamb must play great defense and hit big shots under pressure in order for the Cats to advance to the title game and, ultimately, cut down the nets in Houston.
4. Should the NCAA reseed the teams in the Final Four?
Mitch: No. Bad idea. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Braden: Great question. The answer to that question 99 out of 100 times is absolutely not. This would be the only year that even raises the issue. An 8 vs. 11 match-up has never happened in the Final Four and may never happen again. It’s unfortunate that the national title will be determined on Saturday in the Kentucky-UConn game, but those are the cards basketball fans — and CBS — have been dealt. The best we can hope for on Monday night is that Butler will give us another great effort.
Nathan: Absolutely not. All region champs are created equal at this time of year. Any team that wins four straight games (or five, in VCU’s case) in the Big Dance has proven it belongs. These are the four No. 1 seeds, in my opinion. Plus, reseeding could backfire. If UK and UConn were split up, they could both lose. Then, there would be a Butler-VCU title game. As it stands, at least one member of basketball royalty will be playing an underdog for the crown on Monday night in Houston.
5. Who will win it all?
Mitch: Right now, I think Kentucky is the best team. If the Cats continue to get solid play from Josh Harrellson, a perceived weakness is a strength. Kentucky is getting great play from its veteran wing players Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins, and the entire team is hitting big shots in the big moments.
Braden: The experience and will power of Kemba Walker will give the Huskies the slight edge over Kentucky. However, something tells me that this is John Calapari’s year. Every time North Carolina got to within one or two points, Brandon Knight would knock down a huge shot. These Cats can shoot the ball better than any of Cal’s past teams, and it appears the coach has finally learned that you have to run half-court sets to win a championship. Even if the banner is pulled down in three years.
Nathan: Kentucky over Butler. This is not John Calipari’s most talented collection of players but it may be the best “team” he’s ever had, not to mention the best coaching job he’s ever done. The emergence of senior junior college transfer Josh “Jorts” Harrellson — who stepped up when the NCAA suspended five-star freshman Enes Kanter for the season — has provided championship-caliber heart and soul for the Cats, while juniors DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller add athleticism and experience to a core trio of freshmen — point guard Brandon Knight, wingman Doron Lamb and forward Terrence Jones — who are playing with poise beyond their years. Butler is no easy out but if Coach Cal can avoid a repeat of his Memphis-Kansas Monday night meltdown — when he let a championship slip through his fingers — UK will raise the eighth banner in school history.