Monday, March 30, 2009

March Madness review and Final Four preview

Last week I wrote a post longing for the old days of March Madness, wanting more upsets and buzzer-beaters. Turns out, we only had one game that was like that. But my purpose today isn't really to complain, it's to react to what we watched last week.

We start with UConn seeing as they were the first team in the final four. They successfully showed they can handle the distractions that the program is under with the recruiting accusations. Quick sidebar: If Calhoun did anything more than just calling or texting Nate Miles or any other recruits, then UConn should be punished. But the fact that calling someone or texting someone a few extra times can have the NCAA possibly take away a potential championship from them is absurd. Worse case, loss of some scholarships if the result wasn't a big deal. Back to basketball, I was a little surprised that Purdue and Missouri hung around as long as they did after UConn ran out to early 10-pt leads. Not as surprised as I was that Mizzou beat Memphis, but I should saw this coming. The last C-USA loss Memphis has came against UAB when Mike Anderson was still coach them. Memphis had no way of stopping them, Missouri kept coming at them. UConn I believe is the favorite to win the championship now that Louisville is out because there is a rhythm that they are playing that makes them tough to beat, and more importantly, all three teams will have trouble driving the lane with Thabeet in the middle. That means a greater dependence on the 3 will be needed by Michigan St and the Nova/UNC winner. Michigan St. is now an interesting team after beating Kansas and Louisville to get to the Final Four.

The Spartans can slow down the game like no one left in the tourney, plus they are the de facto home team in Detroit. They're guards are very intelligent and composed; the way they made Louisville look yesterday should be shown by every Big East school when they practice for the Cards next year. It looked to me that Michigan St wanted it more than Louisville, they took many of the hustle plays. Plus Goran Suton was great yesterday and broke the Pitino zone. Now we will have a great matchup of coaches; Calhoun vs. Izzo. The biggest difference between Louisville and UConn is the Huskies can play half-court defense better than the Cards. Louisville needs to play a team they can press to death and score on transition. UConn is more efficient in the half-court both on offense and defense. Also to like about UConn, the likely pro-Spartan crowd won't affect the Huskies since they are the best road team remaining and Calhoun has never lost a Final Four game in his two previous trips. UConn should win the 1st semi; my score, 72-63.

The best game of the tournament was Villanova-Pitt Saturday night and at the time, I thought I still had a chance to win my pool since I didn't believe anyone else took Nova. Unfortunately that wasn't the case, but it doesn't diminish the game in the slightest. Both teams came to play,after Nova dominated Duke and Pitt needed the Fields 3 and steal to beat Xavier. It was a back and forth affair between two Big East teams who don't get outtoughed. The turning point of the game was after the timeout Jay Wright called with Pitt up 4 and Nova came out and promptly stole the ball and the foul, cutting the deficit to 1. They followed with another layup to take the lead and after two Lavance Fields FT's, Dwayne Anderson hit a three to make it 71-69 Nova. It looked like Nova had it won, until the awful inbound play which put Fields on the line to tie it. But with 5 seconds left, Scottie Reynolds on a perfect inbound play ran cross court and make one of the greatest shots in tourney history. They will face North Carolina, who dominated Gonzaga and Oklahoma en route to Detroit. North Carolina pushed the tempo way up against both, the Zags didn't have the talent to match and Oklahoma couldn't do anything defensively against the Heels.

This sets up a very intriging matchup with the Tar Heels and the Wildcats. Villanova has a good chance to pull the upset, they have terrific guard play, can be deliberate on offense. They need to keep the scoring low because they won't beat UNC if the score goes into the 90's. There's a reason why most people think UNC is the favorite, they are by far the best offensive team left and Nova has to be ready for UNC to run up and down the court. They also need to have an answer for Lawson; this team goes as he goes. Villanova needs to spread out North Carolina on defense and take their time and get good shots, which they are capable. They also need to be able to frustrate them, like they did against UCLA and Duke. I think UNC can get frustrated by them and I not sure if UNC would quit. They never have showed me a particular toughness when things go wrong. That being said, UNC is capable of starting the game like they did yesterday and Nova can't comeback. Prediction: I really want to pick Villanova, I do. They can come at anyone and beat anyone. However, I ultimately don't think they will stop Lawson, no matter how hard they try. UNC has to win, this is why everyone from last year came back, to win the title. So it looks like I will pick the Heels. Maybe not, this is the greatest year a conference ever had, and dammit, there will be a Big East championship game. Nova wins 77-72 and face UConn.

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