INDIANAPOLIS -- There is no shortage of familiarity for this 53rd Final Four, which convenes on the Hoosier Dome floor tomorrow night. The four teams and coaches know each other in the best and worst way.
For North Carolina and Kansas, which do battle here first, the chords of recognition ring long and true. Tar Heels coach Dean Smith's college of basketball knowledge has graduated Jayhawks coach Roy Williams, a longtime Smith assistant.
In the second game, the Duke Blue Devils know their opponent, Nevada-Las Vegas. Too well, in fact, for it was the Runnin' Rebels who obliterated Duke by 30 in last year's national championship game.
And so the stage is set for the mirror images of Kansas and North Carolina and the rematch of UNLV-Duke. Here's a look at the matchups for tomorrow's semifinals:
* BACKCOURT: The starting guards for Kansas, senior Terry Brown and sophomore Adonis Jordan, have complained throughout the tournament that they haven't gotten the respect they deserve, and they're probably right.
Brown, the team's leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, is hitting 41 percent of his three-pointers, while Jordan has stepped in nicely for the departed Kevin Pritchard. He runs the team well, dishing out 4.5 assists per game.
North Carolina point guard King Rice has been the revelation of the tournament, putting aside three years of inconsistent play for a sparkling four-game set. The off-guard slot has been manned capably, if not always dazzlingly, by either Hubert Davis, the ACC's leading percentage three-point shooter (62-for-127), or Henrik Rodl.
* FRONTCOURT: The Tar Heels are quite solid up front, with seniors Rick Fox and Pete Chilcutt and sophomore George Lynch. Fox is the leading scorer (17 points per game) and the team's money player with fine inside/outside versatility, while Chilcutt and Lynch do the dirty work inside.
Kansas is short and scrappy inside. Senior Mark Randall (14.9 ppg., 5.9 rpg.) is the tallest player there at 6 feet 9. Mike Maddox, a 6-7 senior, is unafraid of mixing it up with bigger players, while Alonzo Jamison, a 6-6 sophomore, has had a good tournament, copping MVP honors in the Southeast Regional.
Edge: North Carolina.
* BENCH: Both teams are remarkably stocked, going at least five players deep. Rodl is the only veteran reserve who gets a lot of playing time for the Tar Heels, though the vaunted freshman class has played well in spots, particularly big men Eric Montross and Clifford Rozier. Kansas can counter with junior guard Sean Tunstall and senior forward Kirk Wagner, and freshmen Steve Woodberry and Richard Scott provide help.
Edge: A slight advantage to North Carolina because of its height.
* COACHING: If it's been done in coaching, Smith, making his eighth appearance in the Final Four, has done it. But Williams has won 75 games in three years at Kansas with name-brand talent, earning a reputation as one of the hot, young coaches. Since he learned from the master, he probably knows what the master will do. And he's only won one fewer national championship in 27 fewer years.
Edge: Ever so slight to Kansas.
* THE BIG QUESTION: Can Kansas hold its own on the boards against North Carolina, which has a pronounced height advantage up front? If so, this game could be a classic. If not, blowout city.
* PREDICTION: The Jayhawks have already proven they can beat quality opponents, handling Indiana and Arkansas in back-to-back games. North Carolina, by contrast, has been tested only once in the tournament, by Temple, and the Tar Heels nearly flunked. Look for the student to put one over on the teacher.
* BACKCOURT: Duke's Bobby Hurley supposedly had nightmares after his hellish performance (two points, three assists and five turnovers in 32 minutes) in last year's national championship game, but things shouldn't be as bad this time around.
For one thing, he's healthier and for another, he's shooting well. Plus his running mate, sophomore Thomas Hill (11.9 points per game), is one of the rising stars in college basketball.
But UNLV's Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt are otherworldly. Both average 16.9 points, are virtually interchangeable at either point or shooting guard and play unyielding defense. This is the best backcourt in the country.
Edge: A solid one to UNLV.
* FRONTCOURT: At Duke, Christian Laettner has finally escaped the shadow of Danny Ferry, and is among the top five low post players in the country. Freshman Grant Hill had a slow start, shaking off nagging injuries, but he has shown flashes of the promise forecast for him. Greg Koubek has a nice three-point stroke and has done a yeoman job, playing out of position at power forward.
Then there's Larry Johnson. At 6-7 and 250 pounds, he is as complete a package of speed and power as exists on the college level. Stacey Augmon, who will join Johnson in the NBA's draft lottery, added an outside touch to his incredible defensive skills, while center George Ackles is a quality shot blocker whose 8.3 points per game are a bonus.