With the Final Four scheduled to tip-off Saturday night, D.C. fans need to pick a squad to root for. No matter what local team you like, be it Georgetown, Maryland, Mason or the other guys, this breakdown should give you a few reasons to root for a team. More importantly, we will provide plenty of reasons to root against a team.
Some of the reasons are obvious; many of these coaches and schools are slimy. Others are a bit more subtle and could impact potential recruitment or conference realignment.
Kentucky Wildcats: This Kentucky team is beyond stacked. Multiple players on the team are projected to be NBA lottery picks, including consensus No. 1 pick Anthony Davis. Many draftniks link Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a potential Wizard too. If you're only going to root for talent, Kentucky is your squad. They have been playing on a different plane than any other team in this tournament.
But give a hater a minute, and you can find plenty of flaws.
It pretty much begins and ends with head coach John Calipari. The dude is sleazy. In his last two college coaching jobs at UMass and Memphis, Calipari's teams have been forced to vacate wins and Final Four banners because of major recruiting violations and academic impropriety. Scandal followed him to Kentucky too, where mega-recruit DeMarcus Cousins, currently playing in the NBA, faced allegations of SAT fraud.
For many, Calipari is emblematic of everything that is wrong with college basketball. He has turned the University of Kentucky into an assembly line of NBA players who play college hoops for one year before their departure. But, until the NCAA says otherwise, Calipari has been clean in Lexington. And, man, has he been good.
The Wildcats are favorites to win the national title, and played in last year's Final Four as well. If you want to root for Kentucky, don't worry. I present the perfect reason why any D.C. sports fan should cheer for the Wildcats: Mr. Rod Strickland.
Strickland played for the Bullets and Wizards for five years in the late 1990s up until 2001 and today he serves as an assistant coach for Kentucky. Strickland was a fan favorite, and a local legend for his affinity to eat hot dogs at halftime of games. If one person could ever get me to root for a John Calipari team, it might be Strickland.
Two more reasons for the local crowd to root for Kentucky. Earlier this month, NBA insider David Aldridge predicted that following a Kentucky national crown, Calipari would look to re-join the NBA ranks. One possible destination could be the Wizards, where Calipari would be reunited with former point guard John Wall and possibly a Kentucky player from this year's draft. Certainly Wall playing with his college coach is an intriguing possibility, as the Wizards need any boost they can get.
The last reason to root for Kentucky is strictly for the Maryland fans. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has a strong relationship with two Texas high school stars Andrew and Aaron Harrison. The Harrison boys are strongly considering the University of Maryland to play what will likely be one year of college. The other school at the top of the list; Kentucky. If Calipari leaves the school for a pro job, odds are the Harrisons arrive in College Park.
Kentucky might win the national title. Love them or hate them, you've got your reasons.
Louisville Cardinals: Kentucky will face Louisville in the Final Four, a rematch of an intense in-state rivalry that will have the Bluegrass State reeling regardless who wins. Louisville is a scrappy underdog that very few experts predicted to reach this level of the tournament. In fact, many brackets had Louisville losing in the first round to Davidson.
What does it mean for D.C. fans? Not much. Best I can tell, the Cardinals have no players with ties to the DMV and a coach who elicits mixed emotions. Louisville coach Rick Pitino is considered one of the best coaches in college basketball, and he has a championship ring to prove it. That his championship came when he coached at Kentucky only adds intrigue to the story.
At one point, the story goes that Pitino and Calipari were friends. Some say Pitino even advocated for Calipari to get the head jobs at UMass and with the New Jersey Nets. But now, today, the two are not friends, and possibly enemies. That they coach at rival schools probably helps fuel the fire.
Pitino also came under fire for personal behavior, including an incident of infidelity that later led to an FBI investigation. I'm not here to judge that, but if you want to, go for it. Pitino's on-court demeanor has always been a little too slick for me, but that is not a sticking point for everyone. Vegas has Louisville as a big underdog, Kentucky is favored by 8.5 points. If you want to root for the underdog, Louisville is your team.
For the Georgetown fans, Louisville also presents a chance to root on the Big East conference. The Hoyas beat Louisville in December on the Cardinals home court, and Louisville's success lets Hoya fans play the "We beat them, and they made the Final Four, so we could have made the Final Four" card. But in the age of constant conference realignment, too much success can be a dangerous thing.
Considering Louisville has strong fan support, new, large stadiums and accomplished basketball and football, Big East fans must worry that Louisville may find greener pastures. Would the realigned Big 12 want a Louisville team that could make a relative geographic rival with new member West Virginia? With a wounded Big East, all members need to protect their necks.
I like Louisville, and I hope they give Kentucky a good run. But if you desperately need a reason to root against them, I've got one. The basketball team plays its home games in something called the Yum Center, named after Yum Brands. Yum Center? No thanks.
Kansas Jayhawks: Many Kansas teams in the past have been easy to root against. They usually have gobs of talent and a fan-base that gets awfully whiny with early NCAA departures. This year might be different.
Kansas is led by All-American Thomas Robinson, a D.C native who has overcome tragic family circumstances and a hard upbringing to find immense success as a Jayhawk. Robinson works hard on the court and lets his emotions show, a kid that is easy to root for on a team that usually isn't.
The Washington Post chronicled Robinson's struggles and his ascent.
"Basketball didn't always look so clear for me and when it didn't look clear for me I was just a regular kid in D.C.," Robinson said.
Considering Robinson's path to stardom, humble attitude, and his hometown, Kansas is almost easy to root for this year. Almost.
But since we must provide both sides, let me just remind you that the polish on Kansas coach Bill Self never seems to dull. Many say Self could be a politician or a salesman, and while it may be true, I am not sure those are compliments. In a college basketball world filled with poseurs who claim to have players best interest at heart, Self seems to be selling counterfeit goods.
Ohio State Buckeyes: The arrogance usually on display at Ohio State would make pro wrestlers like The Rock and Mr. Perfect blush. To Buckeye fans, the Ohio State University has never done anything wrong, will never do anything wrong, and anyone suggesting that OSU did something wrong is most likely a Michigan fan.
When it comes to a school like Ohio State, we don't really need reasons to hate them. We can just hate them. But since you've read this far, I will provide a few. Maurice Clarrett. Terrell Pryor. Jim Tressel. Andy Katzenmoyer. David Boston. And many, many more.
The problem here is that all of my beef with Ohio State comes from the football team. I find this year's basketball Buckeyes a fun team to watch, with two great players in Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger. I find OSU coach Thad Matta the most genuine of the Final Four bunch, not saying much considering his company, but still it counts for something.
With the likability of this Buckeye team, I could consider rooting for Ohio State. Knowing that former Maryland assistant coach Dave Dickerson is now an assistant for the Buckeyes might just be enough to push me over the edge. Go Bucks? Don't count on it, but considering the alternatives, who knows.
Maybe I'll just wait 'til next year.