It's the good guys, Duke and North Carolina, against the bad guys, Kansas and defending NCAA champion UNLV, with college basketball's most cherished prize on the line.
Duke and North Carolina come to the Hoosier Dome for Saturday's national semifinals with spanking clean basketball programs that have been among the most successful in the nation. Between them, the two Atlantic Coast Conference rivals have 19 Final Four appearances, two championships by the Tar Heels and no NCAA problems.Kansas and top-ranked UNLV have 12 Final Four appearances and three championships. But, the Jayhawks and undefeated Runnin' Rebels, who arrive with a 45-game winning streak, have both had serious problems with those who enforce NCAA regulations.
Kansas has reached its ninth Final Four only three years after Roy Williams took over a program that was banned from defending its NCAA title. The Jayhawkers also were handed other NCAA sanctions as part of its probation for rules violations under former coach Larry Brown.
"That first season it was difficult in the distractions that we had no control over," Williams said during Wednesday's teleconference of the Final Four coaches. "That really had a big effect on our team. Our youngsters really wanted to have an opportunity to go back and participate in the NCAA tournament, and they felt like they didn't have anything to do with what had gone on."
Williams is surprised the Jayhawks have overcome the sanctions so quickly.
"We had no idea," he said about the progress. "Our athletic director and I talked last spring and felt that this season and next season were going to be the two that we were most concerned about because the effects of the probation would show up.
"The effects of the recruiting restrictions would show up more now. This (the Final Four) shows what these kids have accomplished is even more amazing because they've really banded together."
UNLV, meanwhile, is here after the NCAA decided to reverse its decision banning them from this year's tournament while making them ineligible for the 1992 NCAA postseason bash. And there's also the possibility of additional sanctions coming against the Runnin' Rebels for other alleged violations of NCAA rules.
"The ongoing battles (with the NCAA) have been very hard," said UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who is the winningest Division I active coach with a 22-year record of 564-114 (.832). North Carolina's Dean Smith is second with a record of 696-195 (.781) in 29 years.
"It's been very, very difficult, but I've got to the point where I've pretty much got used to it," Tarkanian said. "But it's had a real big effect.
"It's really hurt our recruiting. Last year we weren't able to go out and recruit like we would have. But, I really enjoy Las Vegas. I've been there 18 years. I love the university. I love the kids in our program and I love winning. But, it has been very difficult also."
The two programs that have run afoul of the NCAA could meet in Monday's title game. Kansas (26-7 and ranked 12th in the final Associated Press poll) plays No. 4 North Carolina (29-5) in Saturday's opener at the Hoosier Dome. No. 6 Duke (30-7) challenges UNLV (34-0).
"We are a better basketball team than last year," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has his team in the Final Four for the fourth consecutive year and the fifth time in six years. "We have changed our system to take advantage of our quickness. That improved quickness enables us to use more pressure on defense.
"Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner have more physical and mental maturity this year, and the rest of the team is young. I think our youthful enthusiasm will help us."
In the other game it will be the pupil against the mentor with Williams having played for Smith and worked as his assistant for 10 years at North Carolina.
"We have the same style as North Carolina. I had the best training and this style is the best for me," Williams said. "Coach Smith has always stressed to be yourself, and that is what I'm doing."