Final 4 has blue blood in its veins

By Steve Sell
March 30, 2015

ESPN recently released one of its acclaimed “30 for 30” documentaries entitled, “I Hate Christian Laettner.”

It’s about the former arrogant Duke All-American who constantly grated on fans of any team that played Duke, as well as former opponents and even his own teammates — including the terribly-picked-on Bobby Hurley, as the documentary depicts.

After this past weekend’s developments, however, in the NCAA’s Elite Eight, there’s a possible new documentary in the works — “I Hate Kentucky and Duke.”

Make no mistake, we could wind up with two teams in the finals that fans love to hate — except, of course, supporters of the Wildcats and Blue Devils.

What a tremendous Final Four this should be. Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin lived up to their No. 1 seeds, while Michigan State is the uninvited guest by virtue of its No. 7 East seed. Yet, the Spartans have been a regular in this event as it’s the seventh time in the last 16 years Tom Izzo has led a team to the Biggest Dance of all. Izzo constantly is overlooked in the conversation about the greatest coaches in college basketball, but his tough, blue-collar teams always seem to be there when it counts.

Kentucky makes the short trip to Indianapolis sporting a perfect record and the black hats in the eyes of many fans. As Wilt Chamberlain used to say, “nobody loves Goliath,” and let’s face it. Everybody roots for the underdog, which is what every opponent of the Wildcats has been this year.

Not since 1976 has a team gone through the college basketball season undefeated, as Indiana has maintained that honor for 38 years. 

To usurp Indiana, Kentucky certainly will have to survive two incredible challenges, provided Duke takes care of business and knocks off the Fighting Izzos.

The Wisconsin-Kentucky game should be fascinating. The Badgers have the necessary length and maturity to cause the Wildcats a multitude of problems. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker against Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles will be like watching a scene from King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Wisconsin also is perennially one of the best defensive teams in the country. It certainly has to be energized by the fact Notre Dame probably should have pulled the upset on Saturday, but the Wildcats were saved by the Harrison twins, who seem to struggle in games until it’s time to make a clutch play and then they deliver the daggers.

I can’t see Michigan State knocking off Duke, but there are concerns about Coach K’s depth as his starting five scored all 66 points on Sunday against Gonzaga.

A Kentucky-Duke matchup would be for blueblood bragging rights. Both teams stockpile McDonald’s All-Americans like kids stockpile candy. The teams already share poster-child bragging rights for the success of One-and-Dones. Most of their stars aren’t there for an education, they’re there because the NBA won’t let freshmen jump straight from high school to The Show. There should be at least a half-dozen players from Kentucky and Duke who will leave after this year though they would have at least two or three more years of eligibility. They’re like farm clubs for professional teams.

My only dilemma is this: if Kentucky and Duke do advance, which team do I pull for? My guess is Duke because of the John Calipari factor. Give the devil his due, he knows how to recruit and he’s convinced all these superstars to give up individual acclaim and position in the NBA draft to try and win a college national championship and that is a remarkable accomplishment. I’d just like to see how he’d coach a team void of talent — for which he’d probably have to head back to the NBA, where he crashed and burned. Wait, he’s already coaching an NBA team.