Seth Davis: Making my Final Four picks

Friday April 4th, 2008
The Final Four
No. 1 UCLA (35-3) vs. No. 1 Memphis (37-1)
Just because Memphis has advanced to the Final Four doesn't mean the concerns about the Tigers' free throw shooting were unwarranted. Memphis shot 36 free throws against Texas in the South Regional final. If they shot the same clip (57 percent) that they shot during the regular season, they would have made 21 instead of 30. It would have been a much different game. If the Tigers make 83 percent from the line again Saturday night, they will be hard to beat. If they revert to their regular season form, they are going to have a tough time winning. The Bruins are a much stronger, more physical team than Texas, and their guards will not be as flummoxed by the size and length of Memphis' perimeter defenders. I also like UCLA's intangible edge while playing in their third straight Final Four. And the lone UCLA starter with no Final Four experience, Kevin Love, has been the best player in the NCAA tournament (non-Stephen Curry division). If this were a best-of-seven series, I'd take Memphis in seven. For the pressure cooker of a one-game elimination game, I give the Bruins the nod.
UCLA 74, Memphis 71
Like a lawyer who can argue both sides of a case, any resident hoops prognosticator can make a strong argument for each of these teams to win. North Carolina looked much more impressive in steamrolling through the East region, but now that Kansas has made it through the crucible of the Midwest I expect them to play with freer minds. The Tar Heels will obviously have the best frontcourt player in Tyler Hansbrough, but the Jayhawks have four quality big men they can rotate in and out -- including 6-foot-11 senior Sasha Kaun, who rescued them against Davidson with a 12-point performance off the bench. The same dynamic exists on the perimeter; North Carolina has the most electric talent in Ty Lawson, but Kansas' guards are better as a group, especially on the defensive end. In the final analysis, it is North Carolina's defensive deficiencies that nudge me towards the Jayhawks. Yes, the Heels got better on that end of the floor as the season went on (especially during those seven games when Lawson was hurt), but even as they handled Louisville in the regional final they allowed the Cardinals to make 52 percent from the floor. Whereas Davidson had success laying off Kansas' shooters and plugging their driving gaps, the Tar Heels prefer to attack the passing lanes and overplay the ball in an effort to ignite their transition attack. I think that will open up some opportunities for Kansas to drive the lane, score around the goal and get to the foul line. It's always hard picking against Hansbrough, but I've got a feeling that Kansas' whole is just a little bit better than the sum of North Carolina's parts.
Kansas 82, North Carolina 80
SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.