first_imgBilly Donavon’s crew cut. Cut shots of Bill Walton towering over fellow UCLA fans in the crowd. The possibility of Jim Nantz actually using the word Hotlanta. Those are three reasons to look forward to the Final Four this weekend. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With the Major League Baseball season on the horizon, as well as the NBA playoffs, it will be college basketball and its culminating weekend that once again claim the spotlight of the sporting world as a national champion will be crowned Monday night at the Georgia Dome. From a field of 64 teams, only four — Florida, UCLA, Georgetown and Ohio State — remain, and only one of them will be serenaded with “One Shining Moment,” CBS’s celebratory tribute to the victorious team.None of the four teams still alive look out of place in the final four. Two of them, Florida and UCLA, were last season’s finalists, and Ohio State and Georgetown both came into the tournament riding hot streaks after winning their conference tournaments. Though two of the four teams were No. 1 seeds and the other two were No. 2 seeds, each team proved vulnerable in the early rounds, and no team looks unbeatable.Very rarely is the stage set this perfectly for a sporting event. After four rounds of single-elimination basketball, as well as a whole regular season’s worth of games, the last three games of the season are a lock to be both unpredictable and memorable.It starts with the historical aspect, as no tournament exists in a nutshell. Florida, last season’s champion, will try to become only the second team in the past 32 seasons — and the first since Duke in 91-92 — to win a second consecutive championship. In an era of college basketball defined by the inability of schools to keep their best players from jumping to the pros, the Gators, incredibly, were able to keep almost their entire squad from a season ago, despite having several lottery picks, and now those players are poised to be rewarded with a second ring.In order to advance to the finals, though, Florida must get past the most storied program in college basketball history, as well as the team they beat in last season’s final, UCLA. After winning 10 titles in a 12-year span under John Wooden, the Bruins returned to glory under Jim Harrick with a championship in 1995, but quickly fell back down. After several years of mediocrity, UCLA brought in a new coach, Ben Howland, and is now making their second consecutive Final Four appearance the once dominant Bruins appear to be one the cusp of greatness once again.Georgetown, a title winner in 1984, has once again risen to prominence with the help of some familiar names. John Thompson III, son of legendary Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr., paces the Georgetown sidelines these days and, in his three years at the helm, has turned the program around. Fittingly, Georgetown is once again led by a star center, with Roy Hibbert playing the role Patrick Ewing once played, while Ewing’s own son also contributes as a solid forward. Though Ohio State may lack the storied traditions of the other three programs, the Buckeyes have put their own spin on a classic finals team, as Thad Matta has put together his own version of the Fab Five, just like the 1992 Michigan squad. Along with the nation’s top high schooler Greg Oden, coach Thad Matta brought in Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook and David Lighty, to make up the nation’s top recruiting class. The freshmen were able to take OSU all the way to the Final Four, and if Matta can keep his top players from the draft, a la Florida, he could start a new tradition of dominance in Columbus.With an abundance of talented players still remaining, there’s little doubt that history will be made this weekend, as great players are born from great opportunities.Great guard play, always a fixture in the Final Four, is once again abundant this season, as Ohio State’s Mike Conley Jr., UCLA’s Aaron Affalo and Georgetown’s Jeff Green are all some of the nation’s best and have a track record of late-game heroics. Unlike in recent years, however, this season’s Final Four will also be marked by the play of talented big men. Alongside Greg Oden, thought to be a once-in-a-generation caliber center (and only a freshman) is Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert. When Georgetown meets Ohio State in their semifinal game, the matchup between Hibbert and Oden will be one of the most highly anticipated battles of bigs in years.If the past has taught us anything, though, it’s that it will be names we don’t know, as well as the ones we do, that help define this season’s Final Four. Somewhere on one of the remaining teams’ benches sits a player who has contributed quietly throughout the season that will finally make a name for himself this weekend. That’s part of the mystery and excitement of the NCAA tournament: There’s always an unknown that rises to hero status and becomes entrenched in their school’s lore.There isn’t much more a fan can ask in this group of teams and players. There’s plenty of history, and there’s plenty of talent. Unlike years past, there isn’t one invincible team destined to win it all, and there isn’t a weakling set for a slaughter in the first round. Instead, there are four teams, each of which is capable of great things, set to battle it out to be declared the national college basketball champion of the 2006-07 season.last_img read more