Revenge might be a dish best served in the Final Four.
Saturday’s games feature two rematches of games from December, creating quite the added drama for the 2012 event. Even better, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State are four of college basketball’s premier programs, combining for 13 national titles and 49 Final Four appearances. That’s a dynamite combination and creates quite the contrast of the last two Final Fours that features compelling underdogs stories.
But more about that later. First, the rematches.
Kansas topped Ohio State on Dec. 10, while the Wildcats held off their in-state rivals 21 days later. And now, both get a shot at redemption on the game’s biggest stage. That hasn’t happened since at least 1980.
Neither game features the exact same rosters, though. Louisville won’t have forward Rakeem Buckeles (out with an injury), while freshman Wayne Blackshear wasn’t healthy yet. Ohio State played without sophomore center Jared Sullinger, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Kansas took pride in the home win, but didn’t give Sullinger’s absence too much credit.
“I don’t think you put an asterisk with the win,” coach Bill Self said then. “Ohio State can certainly say, and rightfully so, ‘Jared didn’t play.’ And we know he didn’t play, and they’re a much better team with him. We wanted him to play. But just because he plays doesn’t guarantee anything.”
The bigger variable in the game will be the neutral setting. Kansas hosted the Buckeyes. Same applied to Kentucky’s win against Louisville. Not that anything’s ever a given in a heated rivalry game.
Take this quote from Kentucky coach John Calipari after the Wildcats’ win against Baylor.
“It is in our state. They’re a great program. We’re in two different leagues,” Calipari said. “The city of Louisville drives our state. The University of Louisville drives that city. So it’s a very important thing for our state, and it’s important that that school does well.”
It wasn’t quite a dig at Louisville, but there’s no mistaking where Calipari places the college hoops hierarchy between the two. Kentucky’s the big dog. Louisville’s No. 2.
But the winner this week gets to play for a shot at being No. 1.
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