Final Four: A collection of Big Blue and bluebloods

Mar 26 2012 - 4:31pm

Big Blue and the bluebloods have wrested control of the Final Four away from the insurgents.Kentucky, Ohio State, Louisville and Kansas will gather in New Orleans this week following a two-year uprising that saw Butler (twice) and Virginia Commonwealth crash college basketball's biggest party.

This year, there are no double-digit seeds in the semifinals, no teams from outside the Big Six football-playing leagues and no teams that could possibly be confused for a Cinderella.

The lowest-seeded participant, No. 4 Louisville, is the Big East tournament champion.

Collectively, the four teams have 13 national titles, 49 Final Four appearances and men's basketball budgets that average approximately $10 million per school, according to Department of Education figures. (Virginia Commonwealth's budget is one-third that figure.)

Kentucky was the pre-tournament favorite to win its eighth national championship. If anything, Big Blue has tightened its grip on the frontrunner's role after winning four games in the South region by an average of 13.8 points.

But it won't be easy, not with the heavyweights standing in its path.

Here are four storylines to watch this week as Kentucky prepares to face Louisville and Kansas braces for Ohio State:

LOTTO TALENT

The Final Four is traditionally a gathering of the most talented players the college game has to offer -- players who, two months later, can be seen shaking hands with NBA commissioner David Stern on draft night.

That wasn't the case in 2010, when only one Final Four participant went in the first round of the ensuing draft (Butler's Gordon Hayward).

Last year was marginally better, with two players jumping immediate into the first round (Connecticut's Kemba Walker and Kentucky's Brandon Knight).

This week, the talent is back.

At least five players are projected to be selected in the lottery portion of the June draft (Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; Ohio State's Jared Sullinger; and Kansas' Thomas Robinson), and several others could go later in the first round.

THE BIG FELLAS

March Madness is usually dominated by guards, especially point guards. But three of the teams headed to New Orleans have gotten there on the backs of big men:

Kentucky's Davis is the presumptive No. 1 pick; Ohio State goes as the 280-pound Sullinger goes; and Kansas' Robinson is as close to a one-man team as we'll see this week.

Robinson also has a gripping personal story, having lost the three people who raised him (his mother and two grandparents) within a few weeks of each other last winter.

BLUEGRASS BITTERNESS

Few rivalries possess the rich tradition and raw hatred that define Kentucky-Louisville. It's the basketball equivalent of Auburn-Alabama.

The fact that Louisville coach Rick Pitino used to coach Kentucky--he guided the Wildcats to the 1996 NCAA title--only adds to the emotional stew.

Saturday's showdown marks the first time the Bluegrass State enemies have met in the Final Four, but they collide annually during the regular season.

Kentucky won the most-recent meeting, a 69-62 victory in Lexington on New Year's Eve.

HATFIELD AND MCCOY

Within the layers of Kentucky-Louisville hatred is a bitter feud between the coaches.

Decades ago, Pitino helped John Calipari get his first head-coaching job, at Massachusetts. He then beat Calipari in the 1996 national semifinals, and Coach Cal, as he's known, is still searching for his first title.

How deep is their dislike for one another?

Consider this comment from Pitino after Calipari said last fall that Kentucky was the only major basketball program in the state:

"Four things I've learned in my 59 years about people," Pitino told CBSSports.com. "I ignore the jealous, I ignore the malicious, I ignore the ignorant and I ignore the paranoid.

"If the shoe fits anyone," he added. "Wear it."

Should be a fun week.

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