Final Four: Who’s the Bluest of Them All?

This was the year everything was going to be different. This was the start of the new normal. This was the year that the newly formed transfer portal was going to turn college basketball on its head, potentially producing a new crop of champions the likes of which hadn't been seen since the days prior to the overwhelming run of the UCLA dynasty. We were already out of the game, with Virginia and Baylor being your last two champions on the men's side. I mean, that's the way this 2022 NCAA tournament was supposed to turn out, right?

We had seen her fair share of chaos during the regular season. A number of teams rotated into the top pole positions over the four month stretch of the campaign. Two schools (Purdue and Auburn) reached Number one for the first time in the history of their hoops programs. And I think most of us will be hard-pressed to forget that last Saturday in February, where are the Associated Press' top six teams (and seven of the top 10) all lost on the road. All of this was supposed to translate into an unrecognizable mishmash of teams making up this year's Final Four. Well, that didn't exactly happen.

It didn't happen in the West region. Second-seeded Duke decided to give their longtime head coach one hell of a phenomenal retirement present. With Saturday nights win, Mike Krzyzewski obtained the impossible in passing John wooden for the most Final Four appearances all-time by head coach.

It didn't happen in the South region. Second-seeded Villanova kept their usual "under the radar" status, while more favorite teams Arizona and Tennessee fell by the wayside. With this trip to New Orleans, Jay Wright's Wildcats are making their third trip to a Final Four in the last six tournaments.

It didn't happen in the Midwest region. Top-seeded Kansas Took some pretty big jabs from the Big East (in the forms of Creighton and Providence) and the ACC (from regional finalist Miami). In the end, the Jayhawks forged through and made some history in the process. With these tournament wins, KU has now become the all-time winningest program in Division I men's basketball history (passing Kentucky after the Wildcats' upset loss to St. Peter's last week).

And it didn't happen in the East region. This was the season that the ACC was supposed to be down only three teams from the conference made it into the tournament, which is rare for this illustrious League of basketball supremacy. North Carolina epitomized that underachievement. However, under first-year head coach Hubert Davis, the Tar Heels took their eighth-seed status and parlayed that into wins over defending champion Baylor and reigning national semifinalist UCLA. Now, UNC will try to win a national title under their fourth head coach. That's second only to Kentucky in that specific category.

Add that all together and you get the blue blood fest we thought we might avoid just two weeks ago. While many out there had one of these four teams cutting down the nets next Monday night, only a sliver of a percentage of the people in all of basketball prognostication who thought this amalgamation of teams would even happen. Some of us thought this would be the year for Gonzaga (myself among them), or Tennessee, or Purdue, or Auburn, or someone else to keep that first-time winning train going. But, one by one, these teams fell by the wayside, which basically proves one massive point. It is extremely difficult to get to the level of a blue blood.

The four programs that are left in this tournament know all too well the difficulties of getting to this status. A lot of times we put this solely into championships, but there's also consistency and history that go into reaching these heights. Villanova it probably be the latest program to get to that level, and it took them awhile to do it.

After winning it's first title in 1985, the Philadelphia-based school did not hoist the trophy again for another 31 years. Heck, they didn't even get back to the Final Four until 2009. Over that span of time, several schools change their narratives from the ranks of second thoughts to premier outlets. Duke is built the majority of their profile in this time period, Connecticut surged toward such heights, and Florida made a push of their own. However, the difficulties of staying on such a plane are not seen as much as the efforts to get there. The Huskies and Gators are finding that out right now, with the landscape of college basketball having change so much even in the last decade.

But this was supposed to be the year, even though several legendary programs or in contention, that everything didn't shape up correctly for the elites of the sport. Who would've thought at the beginning of this event that this could be the most prestigious Final Four ever assembled? The number of combined championships may not eclipse times when UCLA or Kentucky make the national semifinals. The consistency, though, is what may make this rendition stand apart.

One of the adages some say about this particular event is that they want to see upsets early in the tournament and elites late. For that crowd, North Carolina (6 titles), Duke (5), Kansas (3), and Villanova (3) make up about as high of a court as you can get when it comes to picking four teams and saying, "This is the best possible result." For them, there will be no interlopers. There will be no Wichita State, no George Mason, no Butler, no VCU. There will also be no questioning of prestige. No Virginias or Baylors will exist next weekend.

Sure, there will still be drama. Everyone will salivate over another Duke/North Carolina matchup (even more so because it's the first time these two schools will ever meet in the national tournament). There will be talk of whether Villanova can reach the status of becoming a dynasty. There'll be talk of whether Kansas can help establish the Big 12 as the best conference going. Whatever the conversation, we know that these teams will lead to where they need to go. Just remember that that blood we'll be a little bluer than normal.

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