Look for North Carolina to even score with Kentucky
The best college basketball game of the regular season was Kentucky's 73-72 thriller over North Carolina in December just before college football's Heisman Trophy presentation. Just as the BCS championship game presented a rematch between Alabama and LSU as the most dramatic game possible, the same theory easily could apply for a rematch between two of college basketball's most storied programs.
And just as happened in the BCS title game, the guess here is that the regular-season loser would win the big one that counts with the Tar Heels' Roy Williams denying Wildcats coach John Calipari the big prize that has eluded him twice before in the title game.
But before we decide on an ending, let's look at the path to the Final Four in New Orleans region by region:
SOUTH: As the No. 1 seed in the tournament, Kentucky deservedly was placed in the easiest region. Losing the SEC tourney final to Vanderbilt yesterday to snap their 24-game winning streak might have been the best thing that could happen to the Wildcats because a potential third-round matchup against either defending national champion Connecticut, which beat the Wildcats in the national semifinals last season, or Iowa State is a tough early game. The Sweet 16 could bring a rematch of Kentucky's only other loss this season to Indiana, and the regional final in Atlanta would be against Duke if the seeds hold up.
WEST: Top-seeded Michigan State faces one of the most competitive regional fields. Its third-round game would be against the Memphis-St. Louis winner for a spot in the Sweet 16 likely opposite Big East tourney champion Louisville. The bottom half of the bracket in the West includes third-seeded Marquette, which was the clear second in the Big East behind Syracuse, and Big 12 tourney champion Missouri. The Tigers feature a deep, guard-oriented team with veteran leadership and a myriad offensive weapons. They easily could upset the Spartans to reach the Final Four.
EAST: This is the toughest regional, especially in light of the fact that top-seeded Syracuse seemed to be falling off toward the end of the season, culminating with a Big East tourney loss to Cincinnati that prompted coach Jim Boeheim to question the leadership of seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine. Fifth-seeded Vanderbilt is a live underdog because of the shooting of John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor, as it showed in upending Kentucky, and Big Ten runner-up Ohio State is a powerhouse as the second seed with plenty of firepower headed by forward Jared Sullinger. An upset is very possible here.
MIDWEST: This region has one of the most intriguing story lines with Williams and North Carolina facing the prospect of a regional final against a tough Kansas team in St. Louis, which is just under 300 miles from KU's campus. There's not much in the way of a collision between those two giants, but the Jayhawks have a penchant for self-destruction in the NCAA tourney and should be mindful of a potential third-round matchup with WCC champion St. Mary's.
FINAL FOUR: My Final Four includes Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse and Missouri. (Disclaimer: I'm a Mizzou grad, and they've never made the Final Four). But I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Ohio State in place of Syracuse. (Disclaimer II: I have a daughter attending OSU). But no matter who comes out of the West and Midwest, it won't matter because Kentucky and North Carolina are the cream of the crop. Wildcats shot-blocking center Anthony Davis is a force in the middle, but North Carolina has a front line of 7-foot Tyler Zeller, 6-11 John Henson and 6-8 Harrison Barnes. It says here the Tar Heels will turn the tables on Calipari's kids.