Jared Trexler, Contributing TSN Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There is no time to reflect. There is also precious little time to prepare. The bright lights of Indianapolis beckon for four teams with little experience in the Final Four spotlight.
Most of the week will be spent in front of cameras or in meetings, as coaches worry more about their players' mental and emotional psyche than how they plan to defend the post.
The Final Four is not just college basketball's crowning event, but a soiree of sport that celebrates another successful season on the hardwood. There are dinner functions -- which is a bonus for LSU's Glen "Big Baby" Davis -- and a multitude of media events.
The team that ultimately cuts down the nets on Monday night will have the right combination of physical presence, perimeter play and proper perspective (say that three times fast).
Invitation to Indianapolis: Winner of the Atlanta bracket; defeated No. 13 Iona, 80-64; defeated No. 12 Texas A&M, 58-57; defeated top-seeded Duke, 62-54; defeated No. 2 Texas, 70-60 (OT).
Physical Presence: The inside combination of Davis and Tyrus Thomas will be difficult for any of the other three teams to handle. Davis is extremely light on his feet and moves very well in traffic for someone his size. The 310-pound forward has averaged 20.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest in the NCAA Tournament and held his own against Duke's Shelden Williams despite battling foul trouble. Thomas is a perfect complement to Big Baby: A long, athletic swingman with great shot recognition on the defensive end and the ability to finish around the basket. Thomas had five blocks versus Duke and has 14 total swats in the NCAA Tournament. Darnell Lazare has provided excellent frontcourt depth, especially against the Blue Devils. With Davis and Thomas both straddled with two early fouls, Lazare totaled 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
Glen "Big Baby" Davis is extremely light on his feet and moves very well in traffic for someone his size.
Perimeter Play: Junior guard Darrel Mitchell has been a solid offensive contributor all season and has averaged 15 points per contest in the NCAA Tournament. He also is the Tigers' primary ball handler, but lacks explosiveness and his diminutive size prevents him from finishing amongst the trees. Tasmin Mitchell is 6-foot-7 but likes to float around the perimeter. Teams will leave him open and double-down on Davis until he can consistently drain an outside shot. Other than Darrel Mitchell, the team has made 5-of-25 from long distance in the tourney. Garrett Temple is 2-of-12 from three-point range, but makes up for it with active defense (just ask J.J. Redick).
Proper Perspective: The Tigers are a young team, but play a loose, aggressive brand of basketball that should serve them well in Indianapolis. Head coach John Brady also has never stepped foot on such a grand stage, so he needs to make sure he doesn't let where he is change how he coaches. LSU is a level- headed team that relies on defense to win games. If the nerves come out on Saturday night, they shouldn't affect the team on that end of the floor.
In The End: The Tigers size and team defense will suffocate a UCLA squad that has trouble scoring and lacks a legitimate inside defender. LSU will then narrowly defeat Southeastern Conference rival Florida behind a huge game from the Final Four MVP Thomas to win the 2006 national championship.
Invitation to Indianapolis: Winner of the Oakland bracket; defeated No. 15 Belmont, 78-44; defeated 10th-seeded Alabama, 62-59; defeated No. 3 Gonzaga, 73-71; defeated top-seeded Memphis, 50-45.
Physical Presence: Ryan Hollins averaged just 6.9 points during the regular season, but has averaged 12 points per contest in the NCAA Tournament. He is an emotional seven-footer who does a great job of drawing fouls. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute plays larger than his 6-foot-7 frame and is strong around the basket. He struggled in the regional final against Memphis, but scored 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the comeback Sweet 16 victory over Gonzaga. Cedric Bozeman started his UCLA career in the backcourt but has played mostly on the wing and in the paint this season. He has turned into a solid role player for head coach Ben Howland, scoring in every tournament game and grabbing six rebounds against the 'Zags.
Perimeter Play: UCLA is a guard-oriented team built around Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. Neither player has shot the ball well from the perimeter, but both are intelligent and have found other ways to help the team win. Afflalo has averaged a team-leading 12.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament while Farmar has been the steady influence at the point. It was his calming personality that didn't allow the team to panic when facing a double-digit deficit late in the game against Gonzaga. Freshman Darren Collison has provided steady bench play, recording 5.5 points per game in the tourney. More importantly, each guard plays superb off-ball defense while applying constant on-ball pressure. They are always in the proper defensive position to draw charges or step in the passing lane. They are a main reason why UCLA has given up just 54.8 points per game in the Big Dance.
Proper Perspective: Bill Walton and other former Bruins will be in attendance and will most likely be available for motivational speeches. The program is rich in history, albeit none of the success is very recent. Bozeman and Hollins are solid seniors with different personalities. Farmar has court sense well beyond his years and Afflalo is also very focused. Howland-coached teams are always known to be tough-minded, not making mistakes on the court and keeping things in perspective off it. The stage should not rattle his group.
In The End: UCLA just doesn't have the size and girth inside to deal with Davis and Thomas. The Bruins' backcourt will negate Mitchell, but Farmar and Afflalo haven't shot well enough from the perimeter to offset LSU's vast advantage inside. UCLA's fabulous season will end in the national semifinal.
GEORGE MASON PATRIOTS
Invitation to Indianapolis: Winner of Washington, DC bracket; defeated sixth- seeded Michigan State, 75-65; defeated No. 3 North Carolina, 65-60; defeated No. 7 Wichita State, 63-55; defeated top-seeded Connecticut, 86-84 (OT).
Physical Presence: Jai Lewis and Will Thomas have been extraordinary during the NCAA Tournament. While Lewis has no vertical, he uses his large backside to power his way toward the basket and his stocky frame and quick release to get a shot off before a defender can alter it. Thomas uses his soft southpaw touch to his advantage, as most shot blockers aren't used to a big man who is comfortable moving toward the middle of the paint. He hit two half-hooks in crunch time against UConn block specialist Hilton Armstrong during the regional final. The only problem with George Mason's frontcourt is a lack of depth. Sammy Hernandez is a 6-foot-5 freshman who is asked to just play defense and eat minutes.
Perimeter Play: Lamar Butler, Folarin Campbell, Tony Skinn and Gabe Norwood are a solid collection of guards. Butler's personality is refreshing, bringing a wide-eyed innocence that is contagious. The lanky guard can also stroke jumpers from long distance, making 11-of-22 threes in the tournament. Campbell is the team's leading scorer in the Big Dance, averaging 16.8 points per game. Skinn sees the floor very well and as a senior leads by example. Norwood is a raw athlete -- and is a favorite of this guy because of his State College, Pennsylvania roots. The whole is better than the sum of its parts. The guards exude a cohesiveness that has carried the club during its Cinderella run.
Proper Perspective: When will the significance of their accomplishments dawn on the Patriots? Every basketball fan expected the club to crumble against the Tar Heels. Then the team couldn't beat Wichita State twice in a season. Nice run GMU, but there is no way UConn will be denied. Maybe people should realize that a master motivator, head coach Jim Larranaga, really has convinced his players that this journey is a dream come true. If the Patriots wake up, they could be in awe Saturday night.
In The End: Everyone has doubted the Patriots and they like it that way. However, no matter how much house money they are playing with, the Patriots will come out slightly tense on Saturday night. They are human despite what people have witnessed over the last two weeks. Florida is playing great basketball and will end George Mason's dream season in a down-to-the-wire contest.
Invitation to Indianapolis: Winner of Minneapolis bracket; defeated No. 14 South Alabama, 76-50; defeated 11th-seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 82-60; defeated No. 7 Georgetown, 57-53; defeated top-seeded Villanova, 75-62.
Physical Presence: Joakim Noah and Al Horford dominated Villanova in the regional final last Sunday. Noah scored 21 points and pulled down 15 rebounds while Horford tallied 12 points and also grabbed 15 boards. Both are athletic and aggressive in the paint. Noah runs the floor extremely well while Horford always seems to establish offensive rebounding position. He had eight offensive boards against the Wildcats. The outside shooting prowess of the guards opens up the inside and vice versa, making the Gators' offense the best out of the remaining four teams.
Perimeter Play: None of the guards can penetrate, but every one of them can shoot. Corey Brewer is averaging 13.3 points and has made 8-of-16 threes in the NCAA Tournament. He also converted a crucial three-point play in the final minute against Georgetown. Taurean Green is a great shooter who had struggled mightily before the regional final. The sophomore had scored just 27 total points in the first three games before pouring in 19 versus Villanova. He is shooting just 27.3 percent from long range in the tournament after making 39.4 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season. Lee Humphrey is one of the best pure spot-up shooters in the country, draining 45.6 percent of his long-range shots during the regular season. The young group of guards, void of a senior, must make shots early to open up the lane for Noah and company.
Proper Perspective: Head coach Billy Donovan is the only head coach who has been to a Final Four before, leading Florida to the national championship game in 2000. His experience with the "other stuff" leading up to tip-off will be extremely beneficial. Florida has also played two straight Big East opponents so it won't be taken aback by George Mason's tight man-to-man defense.
In The End: The Gators will sneak past George Mason before succumbing to the inside beef and athleticism of LSU in the championship game. Florida fans should find solace in that the club will be very good again next season if Noah doesn't bolt for the NBA.