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As field narrows, the plots thicken

Pick a team. Pick a story line. Pick a champion. All of them will work.

You can have the story of the "football school" emerging as a basketball power, which was the case last year when Florida won its first national championship in men's basketball.

Or you can have a "Hoosiers" type tale, of the unknown school emerging from the pack of 65 and playing its way to the final weekend as a Cinderella, which is what George Mason did last season.

Or you can have an individual tale of triumph such as the one two years ago, when North Carolina coach Roy Williams won the national championship. The former Tar Heel assistant went to Kansas and established himself but had been wearing the uncomfortable mantle of "Best Coach Never to Have Won a National Championship."

So what does Ol' Roy do? He comes back to Carolina and finally wins the final game of the season, shedding the label.

With Williams having his title, that label is now stuck on Kansas State's Bob Huggins and Texas's Rick Barnes, each of whom has made 15 tournament appearances without winning it all.

Neither Barnes nor Huggins will break that string this season -- and Williams won't add a second title, his Tar Heels melting down in overtime against Georgetown in Sunday's East Regional final -- but all of the teams that gather in Atlanta this weekend for the Final Four will bring their own special words and lyrics for their championship song.

Start with Florida, the defending national champion back for a curtain call. The Gators have several story lines they could follow. The most talked-about one, of course, is their quest to become the first team since Duke in 1991 and 1992 to win back-to-back titles.

The secondary theme is the Gators' quest for complete domination of the major revenue sports.

Coach Urban Meyer's football team won the BCS title game over Ohio State in January, and now coach Billy Donovan's basketball team is two wins away from continuing the Gator Slam.

Before the Gators get to Monday's title game, they must deal with Saturday's semifinal against UCLA, which was their opponent in last year's championship.

The Bruins came into the tournament with a bit of a chip on their shoulders, if you can call being a No. 2 seed in the West a reason for grousing.

"Actually, there are three No. 1 seeds in this Final Four," said Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese. "UCLA really was a No. 1 in terms of what they did, and the committee recognized that."

Tranghese was referring to the Bruins' No. 2 seed in the West behind No. 1 Kansas; they played their first- and second-round games in Sacramento and the regionals in San Jose -- basically four home games thus far.

"And that's why this is a great Final Four," said Tranghese, "because you have the No. 1's [Florida, Ohio State] and the best of the No. 2's in Georgetown and then UCLA."

The second semifinal, Ohio State-Georgetown, should warm the hearts of purists who remember when the game was dominated by classic post men.

Freshman Greg Oden, the Buckeyes' 7-foot NBA franchise center, will go against Roy Hibbert, the 7-2 junior who has given the Hoyas a center in the mold of Patrick Ewing, the franchise player during their last appearance in the Final Four -- in 1985.

And that is how far back you have to go to find a championship game matchup of dominant big men, when it was Ewing vs. Akeem Olajuwon (of Houston) in 1984.

For those projecting wins by Florida and Ohio State, the story line for Monday night would be obvious: the Gators and Buckeyes doing a repeat of their BCS title game in January. That was a Florida romp, so Ohio State would hope history doesn't repeat itself.

Four teams, three games, at least as many story lines.

All of it resulting in either a new national champion or a second term for the existing champ.

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