Saturday, April 4, 2009

Final Four national semifinals predictions

By Rick Morris

^ UConn vs. Michigan State: Two coaches with national titles on their resume (Tom Izzo with one, Jim Calhoun with two), try to take another step to a place they've been before. In the case of Calhoun, he can make into the pantheon of great NCAA hoops coaches with a third championship at a program that he singlehandedly built into a power in the first place. Why isn't he more of a household name? It can't be his prickly personality -- that only added to Bobby Knight's allure.

Also, thumbs up to FDH Entertainment Editor Samantha Jones for suggesting that the Huskies take the court tonight to the strains of the Go-Gos "We Got Thabeet."

This game is an intriguing matchup. Few if any can outrebound Connecticut, which really works against Sparty -- a team that relies on winning the battle of the boards. Also, the Huskies were in an infinitely tougher conference, probably one of the best in the history of the game -- and the Spartans got thumped by two teams from another big power conference, Maryland and North Carolina. These factors, along with their penchant for offensive explosiveness, should outweigh Michigan State's superior depth and relative home-court advantage. Playing with the fan support of a supremely economically disadvantaged area in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression -- and carrying on an impressive streak in this tournament, which included thumping top overall seed Louisville -- appears to mark Michigan State as a team of destiny, but in the end, UConn's explosiveness will manifest itself. UConn 76, Michigan State 64.

^ North Carolina vs. Villanova: Villanova's Jay Wright is the only coach pacing the sidelines tonight without a national title to his credit (although he is also one of the most celebrated young coaches in the game), but the challenges run deeper than this note. The teams in the other national semifinal were more or less expected to be in the mix for the Final Four (UConn was #2 in the FDH preseason rankings, Michigan State #7) and North Carolina entered this season as a prohibitive favorite to be right here -- not just in our book, but almost everyone's. Villanova? They were #25 in the FDH preseason rankings.

Fortunately for Wright, his team plays an all-around good style of hoops, which makes their chances for pulling the upset somewhat better. The problem is that UNC's sole vulnerability appears to be getting lit up from the backcourt from time to time, and while the Wildcats match this profile, they also have been known to suffer when falling too much into the jump-shooting mode. The Cats are going to have to thread the needle stylistically tonight.

As for the Tar Heels, they did not even come close to meeting the expectations of going undefeated wire-to-wire as no team since Indiana in '76 managed, but in the end they withstood rough spots and the Ty Lawson injury to make it right where we all expected them to be. UNC has been vulnerable to the turnover, which has to give 'Nova some hope because they're pretty good at forcing them.

While Vegas regards the other game as being closer, this is actually the one that presents the better possibility for an upset because of the matchups. When it's all said and done, though, we look for the top two teams in the FDH preseason poll to duel for the title in an epic on Monday night. UNC 83, Villanova 77.

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