Pick & Roll

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

How the Final Four contenders match up -- on and off the court

What are the chances that four No.-1 seeds would face off in the NCAA Final Four? Pretty slim, considering it’s never happened in the history of the basketball tourney. (I guess that makes the odds 1 in 69.)

If you selected all the top seeds to make it this far, congratulations -- you may be brilliant or you may be lazy, but the grand prize is the same either way.

But if, like mine, your bracket is obscured by more frustrated scribbles than triumphant circles, at least there’s this consolation prize: You can relax and watch this weekend’s games just for fun. There’s nothing to worry about now -- you already lost the office pool to the genius who picked all the favorites to win.

With that in mind, chuck your bracket, grab a beer and enjoy this college basketball lover’s (not bettor’s) guide to the 2008 Final Four contenders.

Teams University of North Carolina: 36-2, Atlantic Coast Conference champs Kansas University: 35-3, Big 12 Conference champs University of Memphis: 37-1, Conference USA champs University of California-Los Angeles: 35-3, Pacific-10 Conference champs Advantage: North Carolina. The Tar Heels have been the favorite throughout the tourney, though Memphis is also on a roll.

Star Players North Carolina: Tyler Hansbrough, 6-foot-9 junior forward, 22.8 points per game Kansas: Brandon Rush, 6-foot-6 junior guard, 13.1 points per game Memphis: Chris Douglas-Roberts, 6-foot-7 junior guard, 17.7 points per game UCLA: Kevin Love, 6-foot-10 freshman center, 17.6 points per game Advantage: North Carolina. Hansbrough not only ranks 12th nationally in scoring, he’s 15th nationally in rebounding, with 10.3 boards per game, and he sinks 80.6 percent of his free throws.

Hometowns North Carolina: Chapel Hill, pop. 49,000 Kansas: Lawrence, pop. 80,000 Memphis: Memphis, pop. 670,000 UCLA: Los Angeles, pop. 3.8 million Advantage: UCLA. C’mon -- surf, sun and movie stars? The Bruins’ campus is in the upscale Westwood neighborhood, between Beverly Hills and Santa Monica; it’s just minutes from the Pacific Ocean to the west and Hollywood’s Sunset Strip to the east.

Native Cuisine North Carolina: Allen & Son Barbecue Kansas: Quinton's Bar & Deli Memphis: Rendezvous Restaurant UCLA: Roscoe's House of Chicken ’n Waffles and In-N-Out Burger (tie) Advantage: UCLA. With all due respect to the vinegary tradition of Carolina pulled pork, the one-two-three punch of fried chicken, waffles and So Cal-style hamburgers trumps all other contenders. Throw in a few fish tacos from a roadside stand, Pink’s hot dogs and late-night munchies at Canter’s Deli -- and you can crown L.A. the world champion of gourmet junk food.

Notable Alumni North Carolina: Aw-shucks actor Andy Griffith Kansas: “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson Memphis: Game show host Wink Martindale UCLA: Doors singer Jim Morrison Advantage: Kansas. The Jayhawks count a surprising number of Hollywood actors among their grads, including Paul Rudd, Mandy Patinkin and Scott Bakula. (Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall at that homecoming brunch?)

Team Colors North Carolina: “Carolina blue” and white Kansas: Blue and crimson Memphis: Blue and gray UCLA: Blue and gold Advantage: Kansas, I guess. Not very compelling options, but at least the Jayhawks’ colors are bright and bold. North Carolina’s blue is a little too soft and pastel-y for sports, if you ask me, and UCLA’s gold could be mistaken for maize.

Mascots North Carolina: Tar Heels (the archaic nickname dates to colonial days, when N.C. was a major producer of tar for the English navy) Kansas: Jayhawks (not a real bird -- a cross between a blue jay and a sparrow hawk) Memphis: Tigers (like a Bengal -- roar!) UCLA: Bruins (i.e. a bear) Advantage: Memphis. You gotta go with a bad-ass predator here, and in a battle between a brawny bear and a big cat, the tiger’s speed and agility wins every time. Mmmm … bruin meat.