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Four No. 1 teams, one good history lesson on tap at Final Four

UCLA has gone to the Final Four a record 18 times, while Carolina has been there 17 times.

.HOUSTON (AP) – Bill Walton played what many agree was the best college game ever. Michael Jordan is universally praised as the best player ever. Years before either of them came along, the great Wilt Chamberlain redefined what a big, athletic center could accomplish.

These icons got their starts at UCLA, North Carolina and Kansas – three of college basketball’s most storied programs, which are coming together on the sport’s biggest stage, the Final Four.

March Madness? This might feel more like Hoops History 101 when the Bruins, Tar Heels and Jayhawks gather in the oversized classroom called the Alamodome, starting Saturday in San Antonio.

UCLA, the team that won most of its 11 titles in the ’60s and ’70s with star centers Walton and Lew Alcindor – later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – will play Memphis, a team that also has a colorful and successful history, though not nearly that of the other three.

Walton went 21-for-22 for 44 points in UCLA’s 1973 title game – a win against none other than Memphis. This marks UCLA’s record 18th Final Four.

In Saturday’s other semifinal, it will be Kansas against North Carolina, a perfect matchup with a perfect story line – that of North Carolina coach Roy Williams going against Kansas, the program he left in 2003 amid shouts that he was a traitor for leaving his adopted school to return to his alma mater.

Carolina is in its 17th Final Four, and Kansas its 13th.

“They gave me a chance when I was not exactly a household name. I was barely a name in my own house,” Williams said of Kansas. “I have no idea what my emotions will be. I’m just ecstatic for this club right now.”

And speaking of perfect: This is the first time since the NCAA started seeding teams in 1979 that all four top teams – from the South, Midwest, East and West regionals – advanced to the Final Four.

“This is one of those years where it appears from the Day One, people said there are four teams that are a little bit better than everybody else,” Memphis coach John Calipari said Sunday after his team’s 85-67 win against Texas. “That’s what they said. We happen to be one of those teams.”

The early betting pick among these four power programs is North Carolina, listed as a 9-5 favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton Race and Sports Book. Memphis was the long shot at 3-1.

Those who can’t get money down in Nevada certainly might have action in one of those millions of office pools around the country. Those who picked all the favorites in their brackets are looking good. But does anyone really do that anymore?

Indeed, this Final Four is as much about where they come from as where they’re going.

These teams have history on their side – and a chance to make some more.

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