Sunday, March 29, 2009

And Then...There Were Four, the FINAL FOUR

The road to the Final Four is now complete, and the once mightly Big East Conference is really not so big after both top seeded Louisville and Pittsburgh bit the dust.

Pittsburgh lost on a poorly played defensive adjusment that allowed Villanova's Scottie Reynolds to cruise to the basket for the easy layup in the final seconds to send the Wild Cats to the big show.

Louisville never showed up against Michigan State, as senior Goran Suton led the Spartans charge with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Michigan State romped to a 64-52 win and will have a de facto home game in the Final Four which will be played at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Talk about home court advantage.

Meanwhile, the University of Connecticut did away with the pesky Missouri Wild Cats to make it to their third Final Four in nine years. North Carolina stormed past Blake Griffin and Oklahoma Sooners 72-60 to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2005.

At the end of the day, only two stand alone from the Big East. UCONN and Villanova have been playing inspired basketball in this tournament. Even though they are a number three seed, the Wild Cats of Villanova have been something of a Cinderella, having to play as an understudy to Louisville, UCONN, Pittsburgh and Syracuse throughout the season.

Villanova was near perfect from the free throw line against Pittsburgh, shooting 96 percent from the line (22 for 23). Dwayne Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Reynolds, and Shane Clark all scored in double figures, and they needed to do so in order to keep up with Pittsburgh.

The Wild Cats were so physical with Pittsburgh, that the Panthers, who are known for their own physical play, couldn't keep up.

As for the Connecticut Huskies, they are getting better with each game that is played. In some ways, people have underrated the Huskies because Pittsburgh beat them twice late in the regular season, and the fact that Louisville won the Big East Title. But the fact remains that outside of the two Pitt losses, Connecticut is 31-2.

Kemba Walker had a huge night against Missouri, scoring 23 points on 7 for 9 shooting. But the success of the Huskies is based on the play of A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet. Price is a good point guard. He scored 18 against Missouri and has become a vital player in the Huskies run at the end of the season.

Thabeet, is the glue of the defense. His presence in the paint makes life difficult for opposing guards and forwards who drive to the hoop. He averaged 10.9 rebounds a game in 2008-2009 and has 28 rebounds in the last two games.

As for Michigan State, nobody expected them to get past Louisville, yet they blew them out of the building on Sunday afternoon. Senior Goran Suton took matters into his own hands, with 19 points in the game, 17 of which came in the first half. Suton is not known as a scorer; he averages only 9.8 points a game but has scored 39 points combined in the last two playoff games.

The real scorer, Kalin Lucas, added 10 points in the victory over Louisville. He averaged 14.7 points per game this season but was kept under control in the Louisville game. If he is allowed to have fun against UCONN, Michigan State could be rolling to the title game.

As for the new overall favorite in this tournament, the North Carolina Tar Heels are the most loaded team.

Tyler Hansbourgh is a good scorer for a big man. He scored 24 points against Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 but struggled against Blake Griffin in the Elite Eight game against Oklahoma. Hansbourgh was held to eight points in the game, while Griffin had 23, but the great supporting cast that Hansbourgh has, takes pressure off of him.

Ty Lawson was bothered by a bad toe injury before the tournament, and there were concerns that it would hamper him from playing, but the oppisite has been the case. Lawson has been on fire and causing opponent's pain. Lawson had 19 against Oklahoma, 19 against Gonzaga and 23 in his return game against LSU. Lawson's return has been crucial to the Tar Heels sucess, and his pressence along with Hansbourgh makes North Carolina the favorite to win the whole tournament.


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