Prolific offenses underscore Final Four


The NCAA should consider moving its men's basketball Final Four to a different venue, given the teams that have advanced to New Orleans for Saturday's semifinals. Instead of the Louisiana Superdome, it seems more fitting that the games be played on a local speedway or playground.

Coaches, start your offenses.

Kansas might have the best fast break in college basketball. Consider what the second-seeded Jayhawks did to top-seeded Arizona in the first half of Saturday's 78-75 victory in the West Regional final at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. Kansas scored 22 points off its running game -- to none for the Wildcats.

Marquette might have the best shooters in college basketball. Consider what the third-seeded Golden Eagles did to top-seeded Kentucky throughout Saturday's 83-69 win in the Midwest Regional final at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Marquette made 10 of 19 threes, despite only 1-for-6 from top gunner Travis Diener.

Syracuse has the best freshman in college basketball. Consider what Carmelo Anthony of Baltimore did to top-seeded Oklahoma in yesterday's 63-47 victory in the East Regional final at Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, N.Y. Unlike his three previous NCAA tournament games, Anthony got off to a good start and finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Texas has the best point guard in college basketball. Consider that sophomore T.J. Ford was still hampered by a sore knee that he injured in Friday's semifinal win over Auburn, but managed 19 points and 10 assists in an 85-76 victory over Michigan State at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Offense will be only part of the story this weekend. Here are some things you might want to look for in "The Big Easy:"

Best story line: Will this be the swan song for Roy Williams at Kansas, especially if the Jayhawks were to give their beloved and beleaguered coach that elusive national championship? With rumors swirling that Williams could be headed back to North Carolina to replace an embattled Matt Doherty, it also might be a big distraction.

Best player: There are four legitimate national Player of the Year candidates in Dwyane Wade of Marquette, Nick Collison of Kansas, Anthony and Ford. Wade's triple double of 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against Kentucky made the 6-foot-5 junior look like the next Magic Johnson, who recorded the first triple double in an NCAA tournament game in 1979.

Best coach: All four coaches have had their share of criticism over the years. Boeheim is still second-guessed for his strategy in the waning moments of the 1987 championship game vs. Indiana, but did anyone think this year's team was Final Four material? Like Williams, he deserves to get the gorilla off his back.

Best individual matchup: There are a few, but can it get any better than Wade against Kirk Hinrich of Kansas? At 6-3, Hinrich won't have the height advantage against the 6-5 Wade as he had against Arizona's Jason Gardner, especially when blocking the 5-10 Gardner's last-second shot. Wade is going to have to use more energy against Hinrich than he did against Kentucky's Keith Bogans.

Best defense: If defense wins championships, Syracuse might have the edge. Boeheim's zone nearly got the Orangemen there in 1996 but they lost to Kentucky in the final. The Orangemen dismantled Oklahoma (31 percent on 18-for-58 shooting) and could do just as much damage against Texas and the winner of the other semifinal.

Favorite: Because Kansas will be making its second straight Final Four appearance with basically the same cast that lost to Maryland in last year's semifinals, the Jayhawks will likely have the shortest odds to win. Last in three-point defense in the Big 12, they will have to be more consistent in finding Marquette's shooter.

Underdog: Some might say it's Marquette, because the Golden Eagles haven't been this far since the late Al McGuire rhapsodized about seashells and balloons back in 1977. (We're still trying to figure out what he meant.) But how are you still an underdog when you beat the top two seeds in your region with a player of Wade's abilities?

Prediction: Here's a chance for personal redemption, since the pick last year was for Maryland to lose to Kansas and Oklahoma to win it all. Marquette has the same kind of look that the Terrapins did last year, with Wade playing the role of Juan Dixon. The Golden Eagles will keep both Williams and Boeheim at the top of the list of best coaches who haven't won a title.

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