2012 Final Four Preview: Kentucky fans make their way to NOLA

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2012 NCAA Final Four

For college basketball die-hards like me, there is no event quite like the NCAA Men's Final Four.

This year's event takes place in New Orleans and will feature some of the top programs in the country. One of the most intriguing match-ups in recent Final Four memory will be the Kentucky-Louisville game where there is no love lost between the in-state rivals and their head coaches. Nearly 1/3 of all Final Four tickets sold on the TicketNetwork Exchange have been purchased by customers from the Bluegrass State—more than any other state.

The other game, between Ohio State and Kansas, will also be a must-see, featuring two of the top players in the country.

Before you watch the games this weekend, check out our Final Four preview below:

The Teams

Kentucky – This is the second consecutive Final Four for the Wildcats; they lost last year to eventual National Champion UConn Huskies. Just like last year, UK is the prohibitive favorite to win the tournament and give the school its first championship since 1998 and head coach John Calipari's first title.

Louisville – Facing Kentucky will be in-state rival Louisville and former UK head coach Rick Pitino. The Cardinals are riding the momentum from their Big East Tournament championship and will try to avenge a loss to Kentucky earlier this season. They will also be trying to make UK coach John Calipari eat his words from just a few months ago when he said there is only one major basketball program in Kentucky.

Ohio State – The Buckeyes basketball program is often ignored in Columbus, OH, thanks to the school's high-powered football program. A national title will do a lot to change that. It's Ohio State's second Final Four appearance in the last six years.

Final Four Avg. Ticket Prices*

All Session Strip (All 3 Games): $828
Final Four (Both Games): $417
National Championship Game: $308
Buy Final Four Tickets »

Kansas – Facing OSU will be the Jayhawks of Kansas University. Head coach Bill Self has created one of the most consistent basketball programs in the country, including a National Championship in 2008 in a win over Memphis. If Kansas advances along with Kentucky, it would be a rematch of Self and John Calipari, who coached Memphis in the 2008 game.

The Players

Anthony Davis & Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – When it comes to the Wildcats, it's no surprise that their top players are freshmen. It will also not be surprising if Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are drafted with the top two picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. They are that good.

Peyton Siva – Louisville lacks the NBA prospects that the other schools have, but they do have Peyton Siva, who has a chance to be the best player in New Orleans. The Cardinals will only go as far as Siva takes them.

Jared Sullinger – The OSU-Kansas game will feature a great match-up of power forwards Jared Sullinger and Thomas Robinson (see below). Sullinger is a bit of an undersized power forward, but that doesn't stop him from dominating in the post. Of course, if that doesn't work, he can also step back behind the arc where he has made 42% of his shots this year.

Thomas Robinson – KU will rely on Robinson to lead them; he was the Big 12 Player of the Year and is a first-team All-American. Many NBA mock drafts have him as a Top-5 pick, and a good showing in the Final Four will improve that.

The Venue

Mercedes-Benz Superdome – aka Louisiana Superdome is the home of the 2012 Final Four and if history holds true, this could be an epic end to the tournament (as highlighted by ESPN). The Superdome holds more than 70,000 fans and will almost certainly sell out every seat. The stadium is no stranger to big events, as it will host next year's Super Bowl as well.

The City

New Orleans – College basketball fans will not run out of things to do in NOLA this weekend. New Orleans is known for culture, history and, of course, Bourbon Street. Below are links for those of you who will be heading to the Final Four this year:

»  Final Four Guide at NewOrleansOnline.com
»  New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau

What are you looking forward to most about the 2012 NCAA Final Four? Let me know in comments!

* Based on sales from sites using the TicketNetwork Exchange as of 3/27/2012 at 4 p.m. EST