We asked four coaches who know the Final Four teams best to share some insight before the festivities begin in New Orleans ...
Vanderbilt went 1-2 against the Wildcats, losing two competitive games in the regular season (69-63 on Feb. 11, 83-74 on Feb. 25) before breaking through and ending UK's 24-game win streak with a 71-64 victory in the SEC tournament title game.
Here is Vandy coach Kevin Stallings' take on the Cats:
“They’re very difficult to defend because they have legit scorers at every spot. They can bring Darius Miller in and go smaller against you. If you’re a team that plays big, that’s difficult, because Miller can really stretch the defense and put the ball on the floor.
“They can go big against you and that makes it difficult if you’ve got matchup issues. Put [Doron] Lamb at the point and [Michael] Kidd-Gilchrist and Miller on the wings and someone will be disadvantaged from a size perspective and equally as good.
“They make enough shots from the perimeter generally and they’re a great offensive rebounding team and defensively they’re very, very difficult for a lot of reasons. Anthony Davis is a presence in the back of the defense. They’re difficult to zone and difficult to press.
"They’re just very complete and enjoy playing together and sharing the ball and [that] makes it difficult. They’ve got good chemistry. They play with a great sense of energy, urgency and effort. They’re very, very complete.’’
Connecticut saw Louisville at its finest, getting blasted 80-59 on Feb. 6. The Huskies gave up 51 points to the Cardinals in the second half to break open what was a five-point game at halftime.
Here is UConn coach Jim Calhoun's take on the Cardinals:
“The biggest thing offensively is that they disrupted Florida down the stretch and kept at it for 40 minutes. They’ve got a shot-blocker [Gorgui Dieng], and they’re sneaky, sneaky. They used to be about the 3-point shot, now they run.
“I would make sure you have a real purpose on offense. You’ve got to handle the matchups, switch man-to-man. They can start switching everything. You’ve got to watch the ball pressure. Russ Smith is relentless. They are also a very good fast-break team.’’
Wisconsin split its season series with Ohio State, losing at home 58-52 on Feb. 4 but gaining revenge with a 63-60 victory in Columbus on Feb. 26. The loss to the Badgers capped off a 2-3 stretch for OSU.
Here is UW coach Bo Ryan's take on Ohio State:
“[Evan] Ravenel gave them that extra body inside. I don’t know what people expected out of him early in the year. I think he’s been a factor and been a kind of wild-card factor for them. The toughness that some of the younger guys brought in has helped.
“Physically, they’ve proven that they could handle things if [Jared] Sullinger gets into foul trouble, they can deal with that up front.
“[William] Buford needs to get that magic stroke back. He’s too good a shooter. He’s too effective of an offensive weapon for him not to be involved offensively. When he’s on, he makes things happen, like he did at Michigan State.
“[Aaron] Craft has matured above expectations. He’s had an unbelievable year. [Deshaun] Thomas’ length creates matchup problems. He’s like our Ryan Evans but left-handed.
“I think when you break Ohio State down, you have to get Sullinger to the bench. If Craft gets in foul trouble, if Buford isn’t shooting well, then maybe. But they just keep bouncing back and they’re so resilient. They find other ways with this group. They’ve really brought the younger guys along like [Lenzelle] Smith.
"They’re a better defensive team this year, no question. They haven’t shot well at times, and plenty of teams do, but their defense helps them. Ohio State’s defense has bailed them out in several games.’’
Baylor faced off with Kansas three times this season, getting blasted in both regular-season meetings (92-74 on Jan. 16, 68-54 on Feb. 8) but bouncing back to surprise the Jayhawks 81-72 in the Big 12 semifinals in Kansas City on March 9.
Here is Baylor coach Scott Drew's take on Kansas:
“Tyshawn Taylor, in my opinion, is the key to Kansas. If he’s knocking down shots and getting in the lane and creating for other people, then they’re very hard to beat.
“Defensively, they do an outstanding job of making it hard to score. [Jeff] Withey does a great job of blocking shots and you have to get back on transition against them. Kansas is hard to score against.
“Elijah [Johnson] has been up and down and so has [Travis] Releford. Like every team, there tends to be inconsistencies on outside shots. But I think Withey will be huge. And in the biggest games and in their biggest wins, Tyshawn Taylor has been playing their best. Of course, they have to stay out of foul trouble.’’