Connecticut vs. Michigan State (6:07 pm)
As Doug pointed out in his last blog entry, a significant amount of credit is owed to Tom Izzo for his fine coaching job against UL. On short notice, Izzo devised a superb strategy which allowed his team to defeat a superior Louisville team that was led by an equally accomplished coach. More importantly, as explained by Travis Walton in the postgame interview, Izzo convinced his team to buy into the game plan and execute accordingly.
With almost a full week to prepare, it is, of course, conceivable that Izzo will concoct a similarly effective scheme to vanquish the more talented Huskies. Nonetheless, one of the fundamental tenets of any winning approach for the Spartans will be protecting the ball, which they were able to do against Louisville. Given the MSU’s propensity for turnovers throughout the year, I am inclined to believe that this habit will resurface. If my intuition is correct, the outstanding Connecticut guards, Price and Walker, will be able to convert some easy buckets and thereby overcome their occasional stagnancy in the half court offense. Despite having to overcome a partisan hometown crowd in Detroit, Connecticut will be playing on Monday.
Connecticut 69 Michigan State 65
First, I will say on behalf of Ravi that the NCAA continues to abandon the longheld start times of 5:42 PM and 8:12 pm for these Final Four times. That was tradition. You could count on turning on the tv and getting a tipoff at 5:42. They eventually went to the 6 pm start time, and now it's 6:07!! Absurd! Go back to the 5:42 and give me Billy Packer back while I'm at it. When Tom Izzo calls his first critical timeout in this game and Clark Kellogg is talking about god knows what, America is going to be clamoring for Billy Packer. Packer is the Jack Nicholson of college basketball. You need him on that wall!!
As for the game, they should just leave the football turf on the field for this one. I'm expecting a very physical game. Seems like a very evenly matched game on the surface between two similar type teams. Halfcourt teams that are physical and efficient and strong on the boards.
A closer look leads me to think that Connecticut has some matchup edges here though. The guy who I think is going to dominate in this game is Jeff Adrien. After watching Michigan State closely the last couple games, I'm not in love with their big men other than Suton. Roe is young, Morgan and Gray are both soft, and Green doesn't seem to play enough (even though he might be their best interior player). Michigan State has basically morphed into a perimeter team with Lucas, Walton, Summers, and Allen. Who is guarding Jeff Adrien in this game?? I don't think there's anyone on Michigan State who can guard him. UConn's gotta get him the ball early and let him take over. He should get good looks inside and some good opportunities for jump shots.
Stanley Robinson might also be a big time factor here. If Kansas had Stanley Robinson on their roster, they would have beaten Michigan State. KU's small forwards kept them from winning that game. I see Robinson doing a lot of what he's been doing all tournament...tip ins, dunks, putbacks, drives to the bucket.
The other guy who I'm expecting to play great is AJ Price. Everything about his tournament performance thus far screams out Ben Gordon/Juan Dixon/Tony Delk, and now it's time for the big stage. AJ Price is my pick to win the MOP when it's all said and done on Monday night.
Finally, there's Hasheem Thabeet. How is he going to match up with Suton?? Is Suton going to lurk out on the perimeter or test him inside?? This matchup feels a little like the Harangody-Thabeet matchups in that both big men have contrasting styles. Michigan State had some problems attacking Cole Aldrich in the middle, and Thabeet is probably a little more intimidating than Aldrich.
With that said, I am not counting out Sparty and Tom Izzo. Izzo=MAGIC. They've already beaten two legit top ten teams in this tournament. Why couldn't they knock off another one?? Offensively, I think he'll try to get Suton out on the perimeter to draw Thabeet out, and I actually think Izzo will try to encourage his guys to attack the rim and test Thabeet. As great as Thabeet is at blocking shots, he tends to take some dumb chances on blocks and leave the backside open. Izzo is no dope. He is going to try to lure Thabeet out to block shots and hope his guys are picking up cheap points on rebounds. Sparty is great on the boards. They are going to get some second chance opportunities. Gotta capitalize.
The key for MSU though is going to be on defense as it was in the Louisville game. Izzo's gameplan against Louisville was perfect. They made Louisville play the halfcourt game, and Louisville couldn't do it. Unfortunately for Sparty, UConn can score in the halfcourt. If I was MSU, I would actually try to let UConn get the ball inside to Thabeet in the halfcourt offense. Thabeet stinks offensively, and he's the least dangerous "go to guy" on that team. Let him take 20 shots and clean up his misses. I'd be sending four guys at Adrien to frustrate him, and then hope Price isn't hitting. The rest of UConn is manageable.
I like MSU's guards a lot, but I'd basically call it a wash with UConn's guards. Might come down to who is knocking down some shots from the outside. I really like this Summers dude on Michigan State.
Hopefully Sparty will have a million fans there. I'd love to see Izzo get another ring, and I think they have a great shot. What a year for MSU sports if they do it. Dantonio leads a resurgence of the football program and then Izzo cuts down the nets in Detroit. Not bad. I'd kill for that type of success in ND's major sports.
Michigan State has a great shot, but when I look at the matchups here, UConn has 4-5 NBA players and Sparty has 1-2 at the most. Calhoun has built this team to peak in March, and I don't think they are going down to Sparty.
North Carolina vs. Villanova (8:47 pm)
Mike: North Carolina
It is easy to admire the plucky Cats, but unless we are talking about covering the point spread, ‘Nova has no chance in this one. Villanova has a quick and athletic team, but there is not a team in college basketball that can stop this explosive Carolina attack. Lawson, Hansbrough and crew will wear down Villanova with their depth before pulling away in the second half.
North Carolina 85 Villanova 71
Doug: North Carolina
I think this game has the potential to be a great matchup. I would not be shocked if it was a one or two possession game at the under four timeout. For all the fuss about North Carolina, I do not think Villanova is going to be overmatched from a talent standpoint. Nova maybe doesn't have quite the upper echelon players that UNC does, but it's not like Nova is working with a bunch of scrubs here. Scottie Reynolds and Fisher and Stokes were all McDonald's All-Americans, and Cunningham is more than capable of scoring on UNC's big men. I actually think there are some favorable matchups for Nova, and they are one of the few teams that has as much quality depth as UNC.
Plus, it's not like Nova hasn't played talented teams before. These Big East teams are like the SEC football teams. They've already played so much quality competition in the regular season that they are battle-tested when it comes to the postseason. Nova has already plowed through UCLA, Duke, and Pitt to get to the Final Four. Not bad. I will be SHOCKED if Villanova doesn't show up for this game ready to go toe to toe with UNC. These Philly and NYC kids on Nova are not going to back down from UNC.
The key to beating a Roy Williams coached team is to GET BACK IN TRANSITION. It's obviously a very difficult thing to do, but the better and more athletic teams can do it. You can't let UNC run up and down the court in a track meet and spread the floor with all their weapons. They are a good halfcourt team, but they are especially deadly in that early offense stuff. Nova has to be ready to take that stuff away and make UNC beat them in the halfcourt. If not, they'll lose by double digits.
As great as UNC has looked, they have not played any really good teams yet. They played a homeless man's UNC (Gonzaga) and a one-dimensional team (Oklahoma) that didn't have the time or talent to properly prepare for them. Nova is the best team they will have played in the tournament by far, and Jay Wright has a week to get his guys geared up for the UNC attack. Didn't everyone write off Kansas before last year's Final Four and then they handled UNC??
As for UNC, I almost would think about going big against Nova by playing Thompson and Ed Davis more. Nova does not have the size to hang around with all those big bodies, and we saw what Pitt did to Nova inside. Blair killed Nova and almost single handedly won the game for them. If they get the ball inside and wear out Nova's big men (especially Cunningham), I think that would be an effective strategy. Cunningham is probably the most underrated big man in the country and a steady supplier of offense for that team. If UNC can neutralize him with their size, that might cause some big problems for Nova.
Should be a great game. I would not be surprised if Nova pulled the shocker, but I do think UNC will find a way to march on. I want to pick one upset winner in these two Final Four game, but I do not expect it to happen.
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