Kentucky is in the Final Four as expected, but it faces the most pressure of the four teams.
Kentucky dispatched Baylor with authority yesterday. Don't let the 82-70 final fool you; UK was up 20 at the half and led by 15 or more nearly the entire second half before some garbage time points made it closer. Baylor is a very talented team, and the Wildcats made that team look bad for much of the game. It was one of the most complete and impressive victories for anyone in the field.
Looking at this year's Final Four, it's obvious that no team has more pressure to win the title than this Big Blue outfit. It came in as the No. 1 overall seed and overwhelming favorite, so that alone makes the 'Cats the biggest target. Just look at the other teams, though.
Kansas getting this far is like having a monkey taken off its back. The program has garnered a reputation of late for losing to bad teams in the tournament after falling to 9-seed Northern Iowa and 11-seed VCU in consecutive years. Bill Self also has early exits at the hands of 14-seed Bucknell and 13-seed Bradley on his resume.
I can't tell you how many times I saw something along the lines of "Self wouldn't be coaching at KU anymore if not for Mario Chalmers' shot against Memphis in 2008" after KU's close wins over 10-seed Purdue and 11-seed NC State this year. Self is going back to the Final Four, and he did it by beating his predecessor Roy Williams to boot. The Jayhawks aren't exactly playing with house money, but Self probably is. KU's season can't be a disappointment anymore at this point.
Ohio State's Thad Matta was in a similar boat as Self. After making a national title game appearance with Greg Oden and Mike Conley, he had failed to get past the Sweet 16 since. He didn't have the baggage of losses to low seeds or the shadow of a predecessor like Self did, but the college basketball chattering classes were beginning to sow seeds of doubt about him. Going to this Final Four puts a lot of that to rest, especially given that this year's team was a greater coaching challenge than last year's.
Then there's Louisville. Any time a 4-seed makes the Final Four along with a 1-seed and pair of 2-seeds, it's never going to be the team with the most pressure. Pitino has had some bad, early exits of late too, but he's back in the Final Four after one of the better coaching performances in his career this season. His team is entirely playing with house money at this point.
That last point is particularly pertinent when it comes to Kentucky. The two Bluegrass State powerhouses will be playing each other in the national semifinals, setting up a "Civil War" so to speak. It's a very asymmetric Civil War to say the least.
The attitude on our Louisville blog Card Chronicles is one of achievement. Kentucky's a big favorite? Fine by them. Flip over to A Sea of Blue, and it's a different story. Not only is a Final Four loss to Louisville unthinkable, it cannot be allowed to happen. IT. JUST. CANNOT. HAPPEN.
This was always going to be pressure-packed, and not just because UK is the favorite. A national championship is the one thing missing from John Calipari's resume, and this is probably his best team. Failing to win one with this outfit casts doubt on whether it will ever happen. On top of that, Kansas is waiting on the other side of the bracket with a chance to defeat Calipari again in the title game as it did to him when he was at Memphis in '08.
But with all of that and an underdog Louisville team as the semifinal matchup, the pressure increases exponentially. This should be one of the best Final Fours we've ever seen.