Four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four in 2008. So it’s hard to argue this Final Four will feature a better collection of teams than that Final Four, if only because the numbers don’t technically support it. But I genuinely believe this Final Four is, on paper, more compelling than that Final Four, and the storylines for Indianapolis are just tremendous.
Man, where to begin?
Answer: With Kentucky, of course.
John Calipari’s top-ranked Wildcats are 38-0 thanks to Saturday night’s too-close-for-comfort win over Notre Dame in Cleveland, meaning Kentucky is now just two victories away from becoming the first Division I men’s basketball team in history to finish with a 40-0 record. To get there, they’ll have to win a rematch from the 2014 Final Four with Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers and then — unless Tom Izzo keeps Tom Izzo-ing — defeat a Duke team led by the winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history (Mike Krzyzewski) and the probable No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft (Jahlil Okafor).
Can you imagine?
Kentucky vs. Duke on the first Monday in April?
That game could theoretically feature two Hall of Fame coaches and the top two picks in the next NBA Draft. Calipari would be going for perfection while Krzyzewski tries to ruin it for him the same way he ruined it for UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian way back in 1991, and the attached television ratings would be unlike anything we’ve seen in the modern era.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So let me slow down and back up and do this Final Four Look Ahead proper.
SATURDAY’S NATIONAL SEMIFINALS
Duke (33-4) vs. Michigan State (27-11)
Tip: 6:09 p.m. ET
Line: Duke -5
Duke is favored because … the Blue Devils just beat Robert Morris, San Diego State, Utah and Gonzaga to prove worthy of the No. 1 seed they received despite the fact that they won neither the ACC regular-season title nor the ACC Tournament. Duke is 16-1 in its past 17 games. It’s been 11 weeks since the Blue Devils lost to anybody other than Notre Dame.
Kentucky (38-0) vs. Wisconsin (35-3)
Tip: 8:49 p.m. ET
Line: Kentucky -5
Kentucky is favored because … the Wildcats have been favored every game this season, home and away, regardless of the opponent. They’re the first 38-0 team in Division I men’s basketball history, and 30 of their 38 wins have come by double-digits. UK has four of the world’s best 20 NBA prospects, most notably Karl-Anthony Towns. The Wildcats own a 39-point win over UCLA, a 39-point win over West Virginia and a 32-point win over Kansas.
FOUR OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THIS FINAL FOUR
1. All four coaches will eventually be Naismith Hall of Famers: Mike Krzyzewski is already in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, John Calipari and Bo Ryan could be announced as inductees in the next week, and Tom Izzo is a safe bet to eventually join them. In other words, it’s possible this is the best collection of coaches in Final Four history. My pal Tony Moss did the math, and the math looks like this: these four coaches have combined to earn six national titles, make 27 Final Fours and win 2,884 games.
2. Both legitimate National Player of the Year candidates will be on display: The POY race has basically been a two-man race all season between Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, and both bigs have made it to Indianapolis. That’s nice independent of anything but especially awesome when you contrast it to last year, when Doug McDermott and Jabari Parker were each eliminated from the NCAA Tournament before the Sweet 16.
3. The best offensive team and the best defensive team made it: Do you like offense? Cool. Because three of the nation’s most efficient offenses — No. 1 Wisconsin, No. 3 Duke and No. 5 Kentucky — are in this Final Four. Do you like defense? Cool. Because the nation’s most efficient defense — i.e., Kentucky’s defense — is in this Final Four, too.
4. The Top 25 (and one) pretty much predicted this Final Four: Kentucky was No. 1 in the Preseason Top 25 (and one), Duke was No. 2 and Wisconsin was No. 4. So 75 percent of this Final Four was basically predicted accurately five months ago. The only wild card is Michigan State, which was ranked 22nd in the preseason. Not bad, huh? (Note: If you click the Preseason Top 25 (and one), please ignore where Florida was ranked. Thanks.)
Final thought: The conversation in Indianapolis will center on Kentucky until Kentucky either loses or cuts more nets, and that’s just the way it is. But it should not go unnoticed that Krzyzewski, 68, is trying to secure his place on the list of oldest men to ever win a title.
That’s a neat story, too.
Calipari on the verge of 40-0 is amazing. And Izzo getting to a Final Four with this roster is incredible. And Ryan making back-to-back Final Fours is awesome. But the idea that Coach K is still operating at the highest level is maybe the most remarkable thing of all.
Krzyzewski only has eight players.
Half of them are freshmen.
And yet here he is, at damn-near 70, in a position to win his fifth national championship.
Sean Miller and Arizona just couldn’t get it done tonight. (USATSI)
John Calipari is two wins away from a 40-0 season. (USATSI)