And so the predictions for the NCAA come to this (and yes, it’s still fair game to make Final Four picks even though one game is in the books and another is underway).
The choice out of the East regional is Ohio State.
And then there’s Texas out of the West regional.
And Kansas from the Southwest.
And Florida from the Southeast.
As for what predictions await for the final weekend of the season, read on …
(1) Ohio State
While Texas is a bit of a gamble —- especially if freshman Kyrie Irving returns at full strength for Duke in the next week —- this isn’t an inconceivable Final Four.
Ohio State and Kansas are the nation’s two most consistent teams. Florida resides in the bracket that, on paper, appears most likely to implode. Texas generally plays superb defense (except for that second half at Colorado when it didn’t).
Also, it’s interesting to note each coach in this projected Final Four —- Thad Matta of Ohio State, Rick Barnes of Texas, Bill Self of Kansas and Billy Donovan of Florida —- is a previous Final Four visitor. Amazingly, that would be the first time four Final Four vets reached the final weekend since 1993 (Roy Williams, Dean Smith, Rick Pitino and Steve Fisher).
(1) Ohio State
Sometimes, simplicity is key. This isn’t a year for a bumper crop of elite teams, or even near-elite teams. But the Buckeyes and Jayhawks lead the pack, and there are far bigger gambles out there than a pair of teams that have spent most of the season at or near the head of the pack.
Ohio State lost Evan Turner, added Jared Sullinger, and might be better as a result. Given how absurdly good Turner was a season ago, that’s saying something. The supporting cast of Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty is exceptional, and probably a bit more than even the Longhorns’ defense is accustomed to dealing with.
As for Kansas, well, it has balance —- though not with a posse of double-digit scorers. The Jayhawks do have six guys averaging eight points, and eight players averaging five points. Variety is a vital ingredient for many championship runs, and depth will be the difference for Kansas in the semifinals.
(1) Ohio State
The addition of Sullinger gave the Buckeyes an incredible way to deal with Turner’s loss, but the nifty thing in switching from a point forward to a center as the central point in the offense is it helped make both Buford and Diebler more effective shooters. Toss in Lighty as a do-everything guy, and the Buckeyes are both fun to watch and difficult to defeat.
This wouldn’t be the first time Matta reached a title game with an incredible big man, only to run into an extremely balanced bunch in the final. Kansas probably has a better defined offensive pecking order than 2007 Florida did, but it probably isn’t as well-developed a team as those Gators were on the way to consecutive championships.
To be certain, going with Ohio State has far more to do with respect for the Buckeyes than anything disparaging toward the Jayhawks. Finding weaknesses with Kansas is merely nitpicking. But if these teams did meet, Ohio State would probably have the best player on the floor surrounded by guys who have played together for three years. That’s enough to earn them the unsurprising nod here as the pick to win it all.
—- Patrick Stevens