Bilas: Talent is always important, and the game of “count the pros” for Final Four success is fun. The truth is, we have had a couple of years in a row without any great or dominant teams. This year was particularly down as far as talent and truly great teams are concerned. In 2009, we had some great teams, especially North Carolina and some Big East teams. In 2008, all four No. 1 seeds were dominant teams and great teams. I know that people are trying to make this a “class” narrative with the little guy rising up and being as good as Goliath. But the fact that no No. 1 or No. 2 seeds made the Final Four for the first time ever supports the “no great team” theory. The truth is, Butler and VCU are really good teams that would be really good in any year. They have navigated this tournament really well. But I don’t believe that these two teams are leaps and bounds better than the best mid-major teams of most seasons. Have we had a talent drain at the very top? Yes. But that doesn’t take away from the accomplishment of these teams. They have done a great job.
Lunardi: Recent history would tell you it is very important. Then again, Ohio State and Kansas aren’t here and VCU and Butler are. John Calipari is right: Most any coach would take talent (ideally NBA talent) over experience. After 35-plus games, even the most baby-faced rookie has plenty of experience. That’s why the teams with NBA talent still win more often than not.
Fraschilla: It’s essential. A good coach with great players will win more often than a great coach with good players. In this tournament, just at one position, UConn’s Kemba Walker, Butler’s Shelvin Mack and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight are all headed to the NBA and all are capable of being the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. All, over the course of the season, have made very good coaches look even better.
Q: Once an afterthought with the presence of Enes Kanter, Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson has averaged nine rebounds (four offensive rebounds) and a shade under 15 points per game. Is he the tournament’s biggest unsung hero, and is he capable of playing in the NBA?
Bilas: Harrellson has been terrific. He is a good rebounder and post scorer, and he uses his body well. He may be able to find a place in the NBA because he has a big body and he can bang and rebound. Will he be a first-round choice? No, but he may be able to make a team. He is a good player.
Lunardi: He is a huge (literally!) unsung hero because of both his statistical contributions and even more because of the players he has beaten to get here. Jared Sullinger and the North Carolina front line are all going to cash bigger checks some day, but Harrellson’s best skill — rebounding — could get him a cup of coffee or two at the next level.
Fraschilla: Harrellson is one of the great stories of the 2011 NCAA tournament and will be as important to the Wildcats as Brian Zoubek was to Duke’s title run last season. He gives John Calipari an inside scoring presence to balance his guards’ ability on the perimeter to shoot and attack off the dribble. An NBA career, while still a long shot, is not as crazy a thought as it was four weeks ago.
Q: Which matchup, player or team, are you most interested to see in Houston?
Bilas: The Butler-VCU game pits two teams of different styles together. VCU likes to create havoc with its pressure, and Butler wants a more half-court game. It is easier to slow a game down, and VCU has had trouble with teams that make it play half-court defense for longer stretches. That will be an interesting game between two good teams. And no team is hotter than VCU.
Lunardi: I’m going with whomever from Butler is guarding VCU’s Joey Rodriguez (Ronald Nored, Shawn Vanzant, Mack, etc.). The Bulldogs have really limited the top point guard they’ve faced in the tournament and will need to do so again on Saturday. VCU can’t win without Rodriguez doing his thing.
Fraschilla: DeAndre Liggins on Kemba Walker. Walker torched Kentucky for 29 in the Maui Classic back in late November. It wouldn’t be the last time Walker would wreak havoc on a quality team. John Calipari has experience with “great player” defense from his days in the NBA. I don’t know what adjustments he’ll make this time, but you can bet that Liggins will be involved.
Q: Who do you expect to win the title?
Bilas: I picked UConn to go to the championship game on Selection Sunday. I plan to stick with that. But in a tournament of surprises, I would not be surprised by anything. All of these teams have played well, and all are capable of winning. It should be a lot of fun.
Lunardi: One could argue — and I’m going to — that Kentucky has already beaten two teams (Ohio State, North Carolina) better than anyone it will face in Houston. Does that mean the Wildcats are the best team at the Final Four? No. But it could mean UK is the most prepared to win two more games. Ultimately that’s what we’re talking about this weekend, and it’s why I’m picking Kentucky to cut down the nets Monday night.
Fraschilla: Kentucky. I like the Wildcats over Butler in the national championship game on Monday night. And if that happens, Coach Cal’s followers — and detractors — will continue to gro