Storylines to watch in Final Four of four blue bloods

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There’s something in this Final Four for everyone. Well, except fans of the underdog.

After back-to-back Final Fours featuring at least one team from a non-power conference, the 2012 field is much more similar to 2007 or 2008, when it was essentially college basketball bluebloods and former champs. Consider it four teams grandfathers, fathers and sons have all seen at the top at some point.

Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State. Those four are already causing quite a stir.

Some stats on the four:

  • They’ve combined for 13 national titles (7 by UK, but everyone has at least 1).
  • All of ‘em have been this far at least nine times, and 49 times total.
  • Kentucky leads in NCAA tournament appearances (52), followed by Kansas (41), Louisville (38) and Ohio State (28).
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino leads in Final Fours (6), followed by Kentucky’s John Calipari (4), Kansas’ Bill Self (2) and Ohio State’s Thad Matta (2). Pitino and Self each have one title.
  • Kentucky tops all NCAA teams in wins (2,088). Kansas is second (2,069), Louisville 16th (1,662) and Ohio State 37th (1,529).
  • In the last 42 years, the Final Four usually includes one of these four schools.

But it’s more than just about numbers. There are plenty of storylines, too. Here are eight to keep an eye on.

Kentucky vs. Louisville and John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino
Look for another post on this later, but it’ll be the week’s big topic. This is one of the game’s heated rivalries and the coaches don’t like each other. Also, the teams are great.

Already did a post on this, but forgot to mention that if Kansas and Kentucky meet in the championship, it’ll be another rematch from this season. That’s all kinds of odd.

Returns pay off for Sullinger, Jones
Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger earned some sweet satisfaction by returning to school and earning a Final Four berth. But he wasn’t the only one. Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones went to the Final Four last season, but passed on the NBA to bolster his status and earn another title shot. Well done, both.

Cheer for Thomas Robinson
Kansas’ junior forward was another guy who passed on the NBA for a season, but he had a little more at stake considering his mother died last season – weeks after he also lost two grandparents. Now Robinson’s a few months away from ensuring his little sister never has to worry about money every again.

Louisville’s amazing run
The Cardinals lost a starter and a key player this season to injuries. They ended the season losing four of their last six. But they’ve won eight straight thanks to the nation’s most efficient defense. This is the underdog of the Final Four.

Big men will rule
Four of the game’s top frontcourt players – Robinson, Sullinger, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng – are still around. They’re either the team’s focal point or the defensive backbone.

Davis’ knee
Kentucky’s freshman phenom banged his knee during Sunday’s win against Baylor, but said he’s fine.

Who runs the show?
The big men are studly, but the point guards might be the reason a team wins or loses. All four – Louisville’s Peyton Siva, Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor, Kentucky’s Marquis Teague and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft – play a ton of minutes and do the primary ball-handling for each team. If they struggle, their teams usually do too.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.