29 March 2009

Final Four 2009

Let the buildup to Saturday begin. Michigan St and Carolina joined UConn and Nova in the Final Four as the NCAA Tourney peeled off another layer to its cube root. Carolina was expected to win and did so handily. The story of the day belonged to Sparty which upset Louisville with surprising ease down the stretch , and for now put on ice the coronation of this year's Big East as the best conference in college basketball history.

Michigan St has everything going for it at this point. They have nothing to lose as they were not expected to get past Louisville, the Beast of the East. Plus, they get to play in Detroit which they can easily drive so long as they remember to hold their noses at the Ann Arbor exit off I-94. MSU's opponent on Saturday will be UConn which has a bit of history on their side -- this year fits with UConn's five-year pattern in which it rides a #1 seed in the Phoenix Regional to a national championship. Logic says this history should be meaningless to a completely different UConn squad, but athletes are notoriously superstitious so this historical anecdote can't be entirely dismissed.

In the other game, Nova takes on Carolina. Carolina came into the season as the unanimous pick for NCAA champion with unabashed talk of an unblemished record. Carolina has not performed up to those lofty expectations but are where they need to be now. Still, the pressure is clearly on Carolina as they are now the highest remaining seed (Louisville and Pitt were higher seeds), and they are now at the stage where they lost last year. Plus, they have to overcome Nova which is looking like a team of destiny.

Like UConn, Nova can point to history to gain an unneeded boost to confidence. Back in 1985, the Big East's previous pinnacle, an underdog Villanova squad overcame all odds and toppled more highly regarded Big East foes on its way to a national title. Villanova has already toppled Pitt in what was easily the best game of this tournament. Though MSU's victory over Louisville threw into doubt whether another Big East team would stand in Nova's way in the finals, UConn very well could be this year's Georgetown and Hasheem Thabeet playing the role of Patrick Ewing (sans grey undershirt).

Oh, and Northwestern can now claim not only that it beat a Final Four team, but that it was able to do it in East Lansing -- something none of the rest of the Final Four will be able to claim.

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