2009 NCAA Tournament: Final Four Preview
UConn faces Michigan State and North Carolina takes on Villanova with eyes on the National Championship
There is arguably no greater sporting event than College Basketball’s Final Four. The history of the event with great games, coaches and players go back to when the first NCAA tournament was played in 1939.
Last year’s epic was Kansas erasing a 9-point deficit in the final two minutes to send the game with Memphis into overtime. The Jayhawks won, 75-68.
There have not been a lot of memorable moments from the 2009 tournaments. However, the games that we remember will be Siena over Ohio State in double overtime in the first round, Oklahoma State scoring with seven seconds to play to beat Tennessee in the first round and of course Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds layup with 0.5 seconds to play to beat Pittsburgh in the East Regional Final.
Now, the journey has come to its final stop at Detroit’s Ford Field.
You have Michigan State, a team that comes home to play. Then there is Connecticut that has managed to get beyond the allegations of an illegal recruiting scandal with a former player.
Villanova is the Cinderella because while the Wildcats are good, few really expected them to be here. North Carolina rounds out the four. The favorites to win the tournament have made it and have two more steps to take in order to capture the title.
National Semifinal #1
No. 1 Connecticut (31-4) vs. No. 2 Michigan State (30-6)
Time/Day/TV: 6:07 EDT/Saturday/CBS
Connecticut Road to the Final Four: D. No. 16 Chattanooga, 103-47 D. No. 9 Texas A&M, 92-66 D. No. 5 Purdue, 72-60 D. No. 3 Missouri, 82-75
Michigan State Road to the Final Four: D. No. 15 Robert Morris, 77-62 D. No. 10 USC, 74-69 D. No. 3 Kansas, 67-62 D. No. 1 Louisville, 64-52
Connecticut Final Four Appearances: 3
Connecticut Leading Scorers: A.J. Price 14.7, Jeff Adrien 13.7, Hasheem Thabeet 13.5
Connecticut Stat You Need to Know: The Huskies are 4-0 in Final Four games.
Michigan State Final Four Appearances: 7
Michigan State Leading Scorers: Kalin Lucas 14.6, Raymar Morgan 10.2, Goran Suton 10.1
Michigan State Stat You Need to Know: The Spartans are 9-0 all-time as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Key Matchup: Michigan State guard Travis Walton vs. Connecticut point guard Price: Walton, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, has always drawn the opposing team’s most dynamic scorer. He has shut most of them down. Against Louisville’s Terrence Williams, Walton held Williams to 1-of-7 shooting. If Walton can disrupt Price’s ability to penetrate, it would take a lot away from Connecticut’s offense.
Who Wins and Why: Connecticut. Michigan State can absolutely win this game. Suton was terrific at the Midwest Regional last week in Indianapolis. The Spartans controlled the tempo and frustrated two open floor teams in Kansas and Louisville. But Connecticut can play at a slower and win. See the win over Purdue. Thabeet can control a lot of things in the middle of the floor by altering and blocking shots. Suton must get him away from the basket. However, there are too many scoring options the Huskies have and the Spartans can’t cover all of them.
National Semifinal No. 2
No. 1 North Carolina (32-4) vs. No. 3 Villanova (30-7)
Time/Day/TV: 8:47 EDT/Saturday/CBS
North Carolina Road to the Final Four: D. No. 16 Radford, 101-48 D. No. 8 LSU, 84-70 D. No. 4 Gonzaga, 98-77 D. No. 2 Oklahoma, 72-60
Villanova Road to the Final Four: D. No. 14 American, 80-67 D. No. 6 UCLA, 89-69 D. No. 2 Duke, 77-54 D. No. 1 Pittsburgh, 78-76
North Carolina Final Four Appearances: 18
North Carolina Leading Scorers: Tyler Hansbrough 20.9, Ty Lawson 16.3, Wayne Ellington, 15.6
North Carolina Stat You Need to Know: The Tar Heels have won more games in NCAA history (100) than any other program.
Villanova Final Four Appearances: 4
Villanova Leading Scorers: Dante Cunningham 16.2, Scottie Reynolds, 15.2, Corey Fisher 10.7
Villanova State You Need to Know: The Wildcats last played in the Final Four 24 years ago in 1985 when they beat Georgetown.
Key Matchup: Cunningham vs. Hansbrough. Cunningham is going against a lot of size beyond Hansbrough. Ed Davis should figure in the mix along Will Graves. Cunningham is going to need some help because the Wildcats play a four-guar offense. Just enough distractions can make a difference.
Who Wins and Why: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are the best team in the country, especially now with Lawson playing pretty well past his toe injury. Last week in the win over Oklahoma, they showed they didn’t need Hanbrough (8 points) to carry them. But when Lawson and Ellington get hot, UNC is really hard to defend. Plus, they are a little bigger than Villanova’s guards. Villanova needs incredible play from Corey Stokes, Dwayne Anderson and Reggie Redding to help Reynolds. Yet the Tar Heels are balanced and the fact they are playing better defensively will make the Wildcats’ job that much tougher.
By Kevin Lonnquist
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