In just four short days the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Champion will be crowned. It all begins tomorrow night with the Final Four as Connecticut has a virtual road game against Michigan State, followed by North Carolina taking on Villanova. All signs point to the two best teams all season meeting in the championship, Carolina and UCONN. However, Michigan State and Villanova will be looking to spoil what many would call a dream matchup.
#2 Michigan State (30-6) vs. #1 Connecticut (31-4)
If this game was played anywhere but Detroit I believe UCONN would be an overwhelming favorite. Myself, along with many others were shocked when Michigan State handled Louisville the way that they did. Michigan State defeated Robert Morris, USC, defending national champion Kansas, and Lousiville to get to this point. They are not a high powered offensive team, but like most Big Ten teams pride themselves on their defense. Guard Kalin Lucas is their leading scorer on the year but their most key player in this game will likely be C Goran Suton. Suton was unstoppable against Louisville, he battled down low with the Cardinals bigs, but where he really made a difference was his outside shot. The Cardinals couldn't defend it and because of that they couldn't get stops when they needed them. The Spartans other major contributor is F Raymar Morgan. Morgan has been up and down all season so who knows what to expect out of him. Guards Chris Allen and Darrell Summers will be needed to match their average of 8 points a game for Michigan State to have a chance.
The Huskies dominated the first weekend, destroying Tennessee Chattanooga and Texas A & M. Last weekend was a little more challenging, Purdue gave them a game for about 30 minutes, and Missouri took them right to the end in the Elite Eight. Connecticut is especially dangerous because they can score, averaging 78.5 points a game, and also play tremendous defense, giving up just 63.7 points a game. The Huskies rotation pretty much goes seven deep so they rely on those guys a little more than maybe they would like. Guard A.J. Price is their leading scorer, while inside F Jeff Adrien, and their famous C Hasheem Thabeet grab about 10 rebounds per game. UCONN also get's scoring out of guards Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker.
The only edge I would give the Spartans in this game is the home court advantage and even that is overrated. The Spartans were destroyed at Ford Field earlier this season by North Carolina, so this theory that somehow the crowd will lift them in the Final Four seems silly to me. Plus, Ford Field is so huge that any crowd noise might be hard to even hear on the court. At guard I think Price, Dyson, and Walker are much better overall than Lucas, Allen, and Summers. I think Suton can give Thabeet some trouble with his outside game but Thabeet is a monster and his sheer size advantage could throw Suton for a loop. If you couldn't tell I like UCONN to win this game.
Prediction: Connecticut 75, Michigan State 64
#3 Villanova (30-7) vs. #1 North Carolina (32-4)
Villanova has gotten progressively more impressive as the Tournament has gone on. It looked like they might be one and done when American got up 14 on them in the first half in the First Round. The Wildcats recovered for the win, then blew out UCLA. Last weekend they decimated Duke, and then had a classic game with Big East rival Pittsburgh, ending with Scottie Reynolds shot to beat the buzzer. While the other three schools have made many recent trips to the Final Four, this is the Wildcats first Final Four since 1985. Villanova is a guard heavy team, led by Reynolds and his 15.2 points a game. Other dangerous guards on the Wildcats include Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Dwayne Anderson, and Reggie Redding. Their only true inside presence is F Daunte Cunningham, who leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points a game, and rebounding with 7.4 rebounds a game.
As readers of this blog know I love the Tar Heels. Last year was bitterly disappointing and I am hoping for tomorrow night not to be a repeat of that. Carolina has been the most dominant team in the Tournament. They crushed Radford in the First Round without Ty Lawson, and struggled for a bit in the Second Round with LSU before pulling away. Last weekend they weren't tested at all in blowouts of Gonzaga and Oklahoma. The Heels are incredibly deep, with depth at just about every position. Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough are the team leaders but Carolina also has Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Frasor, Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis, and Deon Thompson. Hansbrough leads the Heels in scoring and rebounding but Lawson is the player that stirs the drink. Lawson is such a fun player to watch and I believe his game will definitely translate to the NBA. This is an experienced team and the only one of the four teams with Final Four experience.
I don't want to jinx the Heels but I really like the matchups for them in this one. The main reason I think the Heels can dominate the Wildcats is the depth the Heels can throw at them down low. Villanova outlasted Pittsburgh and DeJuan Blair, but outside of Blair Pitt didn't have much else to send at Cunningham. Carolina is going to wear him down with Zeller, Hansbrough, Thompson, and Davis. Villanova's guards make me nervous, as Carolina struggled with teams that had guards that could score and force the issue. However, Lawson looks healthy and has been playing tremendous, Ellington has been on fire for the past two months, and Green finally got off the snide with an impressive game against the Sooners. Carolina and UCONN have been the two best teams all year, a lot like 2005 when Carolina and Illinois met for the National Championship. It just seems like it is meant to happen.
Prediction: North Carolina 82, Villanova 69