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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Big East to conquer opponents in Final 4

The 2009 Final Four is set with North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan State and Villanova emerging from the field of 65 as the four regional champions that will tip off Saturday night at Ford Field in Detroit.’

At a time in which the auto industry is not up to par, having Michigan State play in Detroit as the home team gives the state of Michigan some silver lining.

The Final Four tips off just after 5 p.m., April 4 with the second-seeded Michigan State, led by Midwest Regional MVP Goran Sutton, taking on West Regional MVP A.J. Price and the No. 1 seeded Connecticut. Third-seeded Villanova, led by East Regional MVP Scottie Reynolds, will play South Regional MVP Ty Lawson and top-seeded North Carolina in the second game.

Who would have thought the Big Ten could compete with the Big East? Michigan State absolutely dominated the tournament’s overall top seed, Louisville, by controlling the tempo in its 64-52 win Sunday. The Spartans hope to continue this defensive dominance when they take on Connecticut.

The key to the game is whether the Spartans can get points in the paint against big men Jeff Adrien and 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet. Michigan State guards Kalin Lucas and Travis Walton must control the tempo and continue playing at a slow pace. Head Coach Tom Izzo knew controlling the tempo against Louisville would be the difference, and the same could be said for the game against Connecticut.’

Sutton and Raymar Morgan need to step up their games against a Huskies team that uses its strength and size to beat up opponents. Sutton, who had 19 points in a win against Louisville, needs to force Thabeet out of his comfort zone by making Thabeet come out from the paint to defend Sutton’s jump shot. Morgan, who is extremely athletic, must put the ball on the floor against Adrien and look to use dribble penetration to put the Huskies in early foul trouble.

The Spartans could play a great game, but it will not be enough to compete with the Huskies. A.J. Price, Kemba Walker, Craig Austrie and Stanley Robinson are scoring in bunches, leading the Huskies to four tournament wins by a combined 101 points. Walker, a true freshman, scored 23 points in an Elite Eight win over Missouri, so Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun should not be concerned about jitters or the distractions surrounding alleged recruiting violations.

The nightcap features a matchup between underdog Villanova and the North Carolina Tar Heels, who are making their second straight Final Four appearance and the 18th in school history. The point guard play of UNC’s Lawson and Villanova’s Reynolds will dictate who wins this game.’

Villanova needs a huge game from vastly improved big man Dante Cunningham. Tyler Hansbrough and Cunningham will make for an exciting matchup, but Cunningham’s length and scoring ability should surprise the Tar Heels.’

The Wildcats’ depth at the guard position, as well as their speed and quickness, will surprise UNC guards Danny Green and Wayne Ellington. Wildcat guards Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Dwayne Anderson and Reggie Redding all play suffocating pressure defense that prevents opponents from getting good looks at the basket. The Wildcats held ACC Tournament Champion Duke to 26.7 percent shooting and 18.5 percent from behind the arc in their 77-54 win in the Sweet 16.’

Villanova’s perimeter defense will decrease Green and Ellington’s scoring, putting a lot of pressure on Hansbrough and Lawson to make plays. The Tar Heels hope Hansbrough attempts more than four shots, the number he put up against Oklahoma in their 72-60 Elite Eight victory.’

Hansbrough was held to eight points in 26 minutes against the Sooners. Stats like these will not cut it against the Wildcats, who have the athleticism to score at will on their opponents.

Both teams are playing well down the stretch and everyone likes the Tar Heels, but I believe the Wildcats will surprise Hansbrough just like Kansas did a season ago en route to the national championship.

My predictions lead to an all Big East NCAA Championship, in which Connecticut will meet Villanova on April 6. Who will win? I have to give it to the Huskies, who have dominated their opponents in this year’s tournament, despite playing without starting guard Jerome Dyson because of a leg injury he suffered Feb. 11 against Syracuse.

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