Reading material and the Final Four

Some interesting blog posts from around the web to check out this evening...

Two posts from the good people at Storming the Floor to start. First is a photo gallery from the Play-In Game, including the catalog of always-fashionable NCAA Tournament press passes. Unfortunately, I don't have one this year. Maybe next year.

Blog Image 282367 - Tannenwald
The must-have fashion item every March.

STF's A-10 and Big 5 guy, Marco Anskis, argues that having Gus Johnson behind the microphone gives Temple the best chance of any Big 5 team to win in the first round.

The Penn fans on here should check out Philly guy and known Soft Pretzel Logic reader Brian Delaney's blog of Cornell's trip to Anahein for the Ithaca Journal. Best wishes to Big Red SID Jeremy Hartigan, who got clocked by a suitcase falling from the overhead bin on the flight west.

Speaking of the Anaheim subregion, CBS announcer Carter Blackburn stoped by the New York Times' Quad blog for an interview, Among other things, Blackburn said he'll be calling Cornell-Stanford and Marquette-Kentucky, with Dick Enberg calling the other four games at the Honda Center.

And speaking of CBS, Awful Announcing posted PDFs of the Thursday coverage maps. I will link to them again tomorrow morning when I print the full schedule of Thursday games one more time.

Back east, New York Daily News columnist Dick Weiss pays tribute to the Big 5 and the strengh of college basketball in the Philadelphia region -- especially compared to New York. A longtime writer with the Philadelphia Daily News, Weiss is still tuned in to our local scene and was at the Coaches vs. Cancer breakfast on Monday.

And finally, Kyle Whelliston ranked the biggest differentials in spending on athletics and men's basketball specifically for the first-round NCAA Tournament matchups. Most of them are not too surprising. Here are the locals:

Overall Athletics Expenses

4. $57,655,906 - [6] Oklahoma ($69,266,320) vs. [11] Saint Joseph`s ($11,610,414)

11. $44,078,016 - [5] Michigan State ($69,914,584) vs. [12] Temple ($25,836,568)

$26,404,086 - [5] Clemson ($48,153,872) vs. [12] Villanova ($21,749,786)

Men's Basketball Budgets

10. $3,729,489 - [5] Michigan State ($6,407,390) vs. [12] Temple ($2,677,901)

19. $1,623,274 - [6] Oklahoma ($4,231,966) vs. [11] Saint Joseph`s ($2,608,692)

29. $342,843 - [12] Villanova ($4,202,768) vs. [5] Clemson ($3,859,925)

And now for my Final Four picks.

National Semifinals in San Antonio, Texas

East 1. North Carolina beats Midwest 2. Georgetown. Last year's East Regional Final between these two teams was among the very best games of the tournament. Without Jeff Green, this game won't measure up.

Still, the Tar Heels's stars -- Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington -- were all on the floor in East Rutherford last season, and they remember the sting of their overtime loss full well. They won't let it happen again.

West 1. UCLA beats South 3. Stanford. It will be the fourth matchup of the season between the Pac-10's best teams, and it will showcase just why that conference was the best this year. Both teams are incredibly skilled, and I was blown away by the quality of the basketball played when the two teams met at Pauley Pavilion a few weeks ago.

The Cardinal will give it their all, but the Bruins will get it done once again to set up a truly blockbuster national championship game.

National Championship Game in San Antonio

West 1. UCLA beats East 1. North Carolina. It is a terrible pun to say that this is a matchup of bluebloods, but the Alamodome will be a sea of the most famous color in college basketball. There are great matchups at every position: Kevin Love vs. Tyler Hansbrough in the post, Josh Shipp vs. Wayne Ellington at shooting guard, and -- most importantly -- Darren Collison vs. Tywon Lawson at the point.

Collison and Lawson will show why they are the best two players at their position in the college game, and I give the edge to the former. Advantage also to Hansbrough and Ellington in their one-on-ones.

But that won't be enough for Carolina to win. Defense wins championships and will do so again in this game. The rest of UCLA's frontcourt combines to contain Hansbrough just enough, as the Bruins win it all and raise a 12th banner at Pauley Pavilion.