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Rival Views: Which team most needs to advance the Final Four?

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The Sweet Sixteen kicks off on Thursday and along with those who were expected to make it, there have been some surprises. Now that they have made it this far, which team most needs to keep advancing all the way to next weekend's Final Four? National basketball analysts Eric Bossi and Corey Evans, as usual, have Rival Views.

SWEET SIXTEEN RIVAL VIEWS: Which coach has enhanced his profile the most?



Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky Wildcats (AP Images)

This was a really tough one for me to decide on. During its incredible run of 14-straight Big 12 Championships, Kansas has only made two Final Fours and Bill Self's records in Elite Eight games is 2-7, so a good argument can be made for the Jayhawks really needing a Final Four run. Duke has widely been considered the most talented team in the country for the entire season and failing to reach the Final Four would certainly be cause to say that they have underachieved this year. But, Kansas has been better than most could have expected this year and with all the Final Fours appearances and titles that Mike Krzyzewski has won over the years have pretty much made him untouchable. That leads me to John Calipari and Kentucky but probably not for the reasons most of you think.

I'm of the opinion that Calipari has proven himself several times over as a coach and, for the most part, the one-and-done approach he's mastered at Kentucky has worked. Some say one title isn't enough. I disagree because I don't care who you are or how much talent you've had, a title plus three other Final Four appearances and two other Elite Eights in eight seasons at one program is an incredible run that is befitting of Coach Cal's Hall of Fame status. But, for many others that's not enough and that's why now more than ever, Kentucky needs to make this year's Final Four.

It's a bit funny to me that a team that has been considered one of Kentucky's least talented under Calipari's leadership finds themselves in this position. A five-seed entering the NCAA Tournament that looked downright bad during a four-game losing streak earlier this season, few outside of Big Blue Nation expected the Wildcats to push for a Final Four this March. And then the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament happened and the Cats' region opened up to the point that the only thing standing between them and San Antonio is Kansas State and the winner of Nevada and Loyola in Kentucky-friendly Atlanta. All of the sudden, Kentucky is a huge favorite and will get criticized nationally if for some reason they don't make it.

It's a bit ridiculous if it goes down that way because Calipari has more than backed up his swagger over the years and this year's team has already done enough to call it a successful season. But, not everybody sees it like me and that's why I feel Kentucky is under the most pressure to make it through this weekend and to San Antonio for the Final Four.


Matt Painter
Matt Painter (AP Images)

There were the Robbie Hummel years that had Purdue dreaming of a Final Four berth. The program's best shot at March glory were derailed by Hummel's ACL injury. Last year, the Boilermakers entered the NCAA Tournament with high hopes before getting knocked out in the Sweet 16. Purdue seemed primed for a breakthrough this March after winning 19 consecutive games earlier in the season, but star big man Isaac Haas fractured his elbow in the opening round of the tournament. Despite the injury, it is now or never for Painter and Purdue to get to the Final Four.

Why the urgency? While Painter has made his program one of the most consistent in America, 80 percent of the team's starting five will graduate this spring, including Haas. Carsen Edwards should be on the short list for Big Ten Player of the Year next fall, but replacing one of the best classes in school history will be daunting.

Dakota Mathias is the ultimate glue-guy, the senior forward that can defend the opponents’ best offensive weapon but also make 46-percent of his three-point attempts. P.J. Thompson, despite his physical limitations, has proved many wrong and is among the tops in the Big Ten in three-point shooting. Haas is an all-league member because of his interior dominance while Vincent Edwards is the ideal small ball power forward. A loss before next week means a star-studded graduating class will not play in the Final Four.

Despite not having Haas, Purdue showed gusto last week against Butler. The Boilermakers' offensive firepower is one of the best in America as five separate players shoot 40 percent or better from three-point range. Their potent attack will be tested Friday against Texas Tech, one of the best in America on the defensive end. Purdue is one of the few teams that can overmatch Chris Beard’s bunch when it comes to pinning strength versus strength.

If the Boilermakers advance beyond the Red Raiders, the team would then face off against either Villanova or West Virginia. Painter's team has the guard play to stave off Press Virginia, while it would likely take 40 minutes of hot shooting and a sense of urgency on the glass to squeeze past top-seed Villanova.

While the future of the program remains on solid footing, the time is now for March glory for the Boilermakers.