By Evan Jacoby, Rush The Court
All week long we have read and will continue to read about the specific breakdowns of each upcoming Final Four matchup. Check out our own Zach Hayes’ previews here and here for the on-court analysis. One of the other important factors to keep in mind on an enormous stage like the Final Four, though, is the experience and preparedness of the players and coaches from each team. Coaches will tell the media that they prepare for the National Semifinals just like it’s any other game, but we all know that the circus and spotlight surrounding the postseason finales, in any sport, can be trying on the competitors. That’s why we put so much emphasis on “big-game players,” the “clutch” factor, and coaches who can win the “big one.” Here’s a look at how each team shakes out historically on the biggest stage and whether or not that will play a factor:
Rick Pitino is the most experienced and successful head coach in New Orleans, as Pitino is making his sixth trip to the Final Four with three different schools. He has compiled a 3-4 record in the Final Four up to this point, which includes a National Championship with Kentucky in 1996 and a return to the National Title game the following season (Kentucky 1997), that time with a loss. His 1987 Providence, 1993 Kentucky and a 2005 Louisville teams all lost in the National Semifinals.
Bill Self has caught flak for several early NCAA Tournament upsets, but he got the full job done during his one visit to the Final Four in the past, when the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks won the National Title, giving Self a 2-0 record at the Final Four.
Thad Matta brought his 2007 Ohio State team to the National Finals before a loss to Florida, making his record 1-1 all time at the Final Four. He’s looking to best Bill Self in each coach’s second trip to the National Semis.
This is John Calipari’s fourth trip to the Final Four, with three different schools, where he is a combined 1-3 in the past. Kentucky detractors need to find something to nitpick about the overwhelming favorites, and Cal’s inability to win it all is a key criticism. His 1996 Massachusetts team and last year’s Kentucky (2011) team both lost in the National Semifinals, while the 2008 Memphis team beat UCLA before falling to Kansas in the National Championship.
Kentucky is making its 15th appearance in the Final Four, seeking its 8th National Championship and first since 1998.
Kansas is making its 14th appearance to the Final Four seeking its 4th National Championship. The Jayhawks have the most recent title, coming in 2008.
Louisville makes its 9th all-time appearance in the Final Four in search of its 3rd National Championship. The first two came during the Denny Crum era in 1980 and 1986.
Ohio State is making its 11th appearance in the Final Four but is seeking just its 2nd National Title. Its only National Championship banner is from 1960 under Fred Taylor.
Only Kentucky has current players with Final Four experience, with three significant regulars in Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Darius Miller from last year’s team. Eloy Vargas is also a seldom-used reserve who played on last year’s squad. No other players have any Final Four experience, but here’s a look at the McDonald’s All-Americans and consensus top recruits on each team. Make of it what you wish:
Ohio State is loaded with 5 McDonald’s All-Americans, while Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross were also top recruits that make for a total of 7 top-50 recruits on the team.
Kentucky has 6 McDonald’s All-Americans on the team, all of whom play major minutes, with no other top-50 recruits remaining on the squad.
Louisville has 3 McD’s All-Americans in the form of Peyton Siva, Wayne Blackshear, and Chane Behanan. Four others were highly recruited but none of which cracked the RSCI top-50.
Kansas has exactly 0 Burger Boys, though there are 4 total top-50 recruits on the squad. Of note: Tyshawn Taylor is not part of that criteria but freshman Naadir Tharpe is.
There are plenty of ways to break down the season-long statistics of the Final Four teams. We’ll just give you a quick look at each team’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies according to Ken Pomeroy’s schedule- and pace-adjusted rankings:
Ohio State is a consistently great team on both ends, ranking 7th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 2nd in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Kentucky has been just as good, ranking 2nd in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency on the season.
Kansas is pretty darn good on both sides, as well, coming in 16th on adjusted offense and ranking 4th in adjusted defense for the year.
Louisville is the wild card here, for the Cardinals ranked just 102nd on offense but were the very best on defense, boasting the #1 defensive efficiency.
Projecting potential National Championship matchups? Here’s how each team has fared against one another in NCAA Tournament history:
Kentucky is 2-2 all-time against Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, with no matchups since 1984. UK is 1-5 all-time against Ohio State with the only win coming in last year’s Sweet Sixteen. The Wildcats have split meetings against Kansas (1-1), both coming in the round of 32 since 1999.
Louisville is 2-2 against Kentucky, no matchups since 1984. UL lost to Ohio State in 1961 and to Kansas in 1967 for the only meetings with either team in the NCAAs.
Ohio State is 5-1 against Kentucky in the Big Dance with the only loss coming last year in the Sweet Sixteen. OSU beat Louisville in 1961 and has never faced Kansas in the NCAA Tournament before this year’s upcoming game.
Kansas is 1-1 against Kentucky, both games coming since 1999 in early rounds. KU defeated Louisville in 1967 and will be facing Ohio State for the first time ever in the Big Dance on Saturday.
Drop these nuggets of knowledge to friends to prove your historical prowess! Or keep these facts in mind when picking your champion, because history has a tendency of repeating itself…
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.