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The Final Four

   by Al McMordie - 03/31/2006

The Magic number is 3: There are only three games remaining. The following two on Saturday represent the Final Four, culminating next Monday in the national championship game. No one is going to have any kind of home court edge with the games being played in Indianapolis (and all the Big 10 schools dropped out a long time ago!) Here's a peek at what to look for.

LSU/UCLA: There's little doubt what the modus operandi of both these teams is: a stifling, non-stop defense. Take a look at the last 4 games that LSU has played and how many points they've allowed: 60, 54, 57 and 64. That's an average of 58.7 ppg allowed. And one of those games was overtime! In fact, take a close look at three of the teams they played: Duke, Texas and Iona. Duke and Texas have sensational offenses, as does Iona, which averaged 80 ppg until the Tigers held them to 14 points below their average.

LSU coach John Brady gets everybody to play tough defense, and he has an edge in the frontcourt with 6-foot-9, 310-pound sophomore Glen Davis and elastic 6-foot-9 sophomore Tyrus Thomas. Those two have been blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, clogging the paint and making life miserable for opposing offenses. LSU is 21-10 under the total. And now they face a team very similar in style, a scrappy, hard-nosed defensive Bruin squad.

The last ten games, UCLA has allowed 45, 71, 59, 44, 52, 59, 47, 54, 58 and 53 points (one in overtime). The Bruins allow 58.6 points per game on the season and have allowed 54.2 ppg the last ten. In UCLA's impressive 50-45 win over Memphis Saturday, the Bruins shot 35% from the field and missed 19 free throws! Starters Bozeman, Mbah a Moute and Farmar were a combined 1-for-16 shooting. And they still won comfortably. UCLA is 21-12 under the total.

If you're looking for a team of destiny, both LSU and UCLA fit that Cinderella slipper. The Tigers advanced with a 58-57 win over Texas A&M after Darrel Mitchell made a long three-pointer with 3.9 seconds to play. UCLA had a miracle comeback of its own against Gonzaga, scoring the final 11 points to squeeze out an improbable 73-71 win. They trailed by 17 and never led in the game until the final ten seconds. This UCLA squad is on an 11-0 SU/9-2 ATS run.

George Mason/Florida: So who is George Mason? A very good team! First off, they play rugged defense, allowing 59 ppg on the season. Secondly, George Mason has a strong frontcourt behind 275-lb senior 6-foor-7 Jai Lewis and 6-7 sophomore Will Thomas, a strong backcourt, a defensive stopper in Gabe Norwood, and an experienced coach. Notice that they trailed North Carolina by 7 at the half and UConn by 9, and came back to win both. They don't scare easily. Is anyone still underestimating them? George Mason is 5-4 straight up and 7-2 against the spread as an underdog.
SEC Champion Florida (31-6) continues to impress at 19-11 against the spread. They are also hot at the right time, on an 8-0 SU, 5-2-1 ATS run. There are no No. 1 seeds left because of George Mason and Florida, who each knocked off top-seeded UConn and Villanova Sunday. Florida is young, but has outstanding depth and height, with the frontcourt troika of 6-11 Joakim Noah, 6-8 Corey Brewer and 6-9 Al Horford. What has been impressive with the Gators is their defense. They are a strong running team (79 ppg), but they can play a slow defensive game if needed, which was evident in the 49-47 SEC title game win over South Carolina and a win over Georgetown last Friday, 57-53. How about this: Florida is 3-1 SU/ATS as a dog, and 22-4 SU, 16-9 ATS as a favorite. It should be another exciting weekend. Who out there had George Mason in their Final Four bracket? Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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