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Final 4 Picks

Ohio State vs. Kansas

Louisville vs. Kentucky

3/31/12

The 2012 Final Four is finally upon us, and only one top seed has survived March Madness and made the trip to New Orleans. That would be the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (36-2), who have been the consensus No. 1 team in the country for most of the season. It would have been a major disappointment not to see the South Region champion Wildcats (-8.5) in the Superdome this Saturday, and it will take a big upset for them not to play for the national championship on Monday night.

Kentucky's opponent in the Final Four is the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals (30-9) out of the West Region via the Big East Conference. The Cardinals are trying to duplicate the feat of the 2011 NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies, who won the Big East tournament and did not lose again until this season. In-state rivals will meet in the national semifinals for the first time since 1962, and this one has an even more intriguing feel considering Louisville head coach Rick Pitino led the Wildcats to a national title in 1996.

While the coaching matchup between Pitino and Kentucky's John Calipari is one for the ages, it's the players who will decide this game on the court. Calipari's latest and perhaps greatest one-and-done squad features a starting lineup that includes three freshmen doubling as future first-round NBA picks and two others expected to play in the pros as well. Of the freshmen, National Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis figures to be the top overall pick in June's NBA draft while teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may follow him immediately at No. 2.

The Cardinals do not possess the same level of talent, but they will be prepared to slow the pace defensively behind senior Peyton Siva. The enigmatic point guard from Seattle has been one of the most valuable players in college basketball this season, as his team tends to follow his lead whenever he is in the game, and he has already promised to "shock the world" this weekend.

A Louisville win would certainly be a shocker, as the Wildcats have covered the spread easily in their last three games, and 30 of their 36 wins have been decided by nine points or more. Kentucky won the annual meeting with the Cardinals 69-62 last December 31 but did not cover the 10-point spread after beating the line in the previous three head-to-head matchups.

Meanwhile, it would not be a surprise to see either team advance in the other Final Four matchup on Saturday. A pair of No. 2 seeds will meet for the chance to cut down the nets on Monday, as the East Region champion Ohio State Buckeyes (31-7) battle the Midwest Region champion Kansas Jayhawks (31-6) in the second game.

The Buckeyes (-2.5) ousted top seed Syracuse 77-70 last Saturday while the Jayhawks followed suit by knocking out North Carolina 80-67 on Sunday. Both teams have underachieved at times during the season, and neither won its conference tournament. But each was viewed as a national title contender throughout the year and always seemed to have the confidence to get here.

Ohio State is led by sophomore big man Jared Sullinger, who took a risk in returning to school this year after he was viewed as an NBA lottery pick as a freshman. Sullinger's goal was to not only make it to the Final Four but also win a national championship for the Buckeyes. Kansas also has a dominant player inside in junior Thomas Robinson, and he will provide Sullinger with his biggest test of the season. The point guards could very well be the deciding factor in this game though. Senior Tyshawn Taylor has the potential to be the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four for the Jayhawks if he just takes good shots and does not turn the ball over, which could be difficult against defensive stopper Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes.

Sullinger missed the earlier meeting between the teams back on December 10 at Allen Fieldhouse due to a sore back, as Kansas rolled to a 78-67 victory. Robinson had 21 points in that game while Taylor had nine points on 3 of 9 shooting, 13 assists and seven turnovers. The Jayhawks have won the last four meetings but are just 2-11 against the spread in their past 13 games against Big Ten opponents while Ohio State is 6-2 ATS in its previous eight overall.

Our Picks - We handicap college hoops by the numbers. If our numbers say to play, we play. In this case, our numbers say to play both of these games and one of these picks may surprise you. We're taking Louisville and may even put a peanut on the money line. When we run season to date data through our model, we come up with a 5 point Kentucky win. However, if we only use recent data, the model has Louisville pulling the upset. Likewise, when recalculating the season to date power ratings of these two teams and putting extra emphasis on the last 7 games, Louisville comes up as a 3 point fav!

In the Ohio State - Kansas game, we're going with Ohio State. We have made mention several times throughout the tournament that Ohio State is currently playing at a higher level than any other team when we put emphasis on the last 7 games. In fact, doing so, we'd have Ohio State favored by 6 over Kentucky if they were to meet. We make them 6.5 points better than Kansas here, and our model would agree, favoring them by 3 using season to date data and by 9 when using data from only the last 7 games.

Louisville +8.5 over Kentucky

Ohio State -2.5 over Kansas

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