College basketball's Final Four men's teams will play in New Orleans Saturday, to decide which two squads will play in Monday night's NCAA championship game. The first match-up pits the University of Louisville against tournament favorite — and archrival — the University of Kentucky. In the second game, Ohio State University will face the University of Kansas.
Kentucky is the lone No. 1 seed to make this year's Final Four. Both Kansas and Ohio State are No. 2 seeds, while Louisville was seeded fourth. Of the four teams, Kentucky is the only one to score more than 80 points in every game it's played in the 2012 tournament.
Earlier this week, when Mark Memmott asked Two-Way readers to predict who would win it all, Kentucky emerged as the clear favorite, followed by Kansas.
By his count, NPR's Mike Pesca has attended 18 games in this year's tourney. And as he tells Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne in an interview to air Friday, this year hasn't brought the flurry of buzzer-beating shots and standout performances that defined recent tournaments.
"But what there has been, and what there always is in college basketball, is emotion," Mike says. "And I think that's what brings people back to college basketball."
Saturday's action will tip off at 6:09 p.m. ET, when the Wildcats and Cardinals play for bragging rights in Kentucky. The next game follows at 8:49 p.m. ET. The games will be on CBS — or, if you're hoping to watch in person at the Superdome, tickets were available Thursday afternoon. Prices ranged from $225 in the nosebleed seats to $6,750 for a second-row spot along the sideline.
Here's how Mike sees the games shaping up:
On Kentucky vs. Louisville:
"Coming in, I think people knew that Kentucky was the best team, but they didn't realize how good they were — maybe because Kentucky is now playing its best basketball. They're great on offense, and they're spectacular on defense."
Mike says that many people see Louisville as the weakest team in the Final Four. But he thinks they can give Kentucky a good game:
"I think... if there's one with a chance, it is Louisville, just because Rick Pitino is a really smart coach, and a really good tactician. And he has six days to prepare for this game. And if someone's going to beat Kentucky, I don't think you do it with athleticism; I think you can possibly outwit and confuse them. Then again, Kentucky plays a tight game... you know what? It probably won't work. But if it will, I think Rick Pitino is the guy to do it."
On Ohio State vs. Kansas:
"Ohio State probably had more highly recruited players, out of high school. Their best player is Jared Sullinger, who is 6'10, and bruising. Yet he's not a big dunker or a high flier; great at jumpshots."
"Kansas has actually overachieved. They have very good players; tons of schools would trade their rosters for Kansas'. But considering that Kansas usually has a top-5 recruiting class, they don't have any McDonald's All-Americans on their roster. It just goes to show you what a good job their coach, Bill Self, has done. This will be a good game."
On Monday, Mike will be back on Morning Edition to discuss the title matchup. And as in the rest of the tournament, he expects there to be no shortage of emotion in the championship game.
"Because it's a one-and-done situation, not a long series — and because these are kids who might never get a chance to be on the national stage, there's a lot of crying at the end; there's a lot of hugging during victory," he says.
"And I think that is the hook, and will continue to be the hook, for this NCAA Tournament."