Michigan State guard Korie Lucious cuts down part of the net after the Spartans defeated the Louisville Cardinals during their NCAA men’s Midwest Regional finals basketball game in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 29, 2009. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
6:07 p.m. Saturday
Not many people expected the Spartans to get this far, but they did it with their usual trademarks of defense, rebounding and toughness.
Connecticut is similar in a lot of those areas but is also more dangerous on offense led by star point guard A.J. Price and bruising power forward Jeff Adrien.
The key to this game will be the play of UConn center Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet is a monstrous 7-foot-3 center whose shot-blocking ability changes the game and discourages teams from even attempting shots in the paint.
The best way to neutralize him is to go right at him and get him in foul trouble or to be physical with him down low. Michigan State has lots of big bodies to do just that in the post and in the rebounding game.
If Kalin Lucas can outplay Price at the point guard spot, which he is capable of doing, and the Spartans feed off the energy of what should be a pumped-up home crowd at Ford Field and play great defense, they have a great shot of pulling the upset here.
Prediction: Michigan State wins, 71-66
Villanova (30-7) vs. North Carolina (32-4)
8:47 p.m. Saturday
The Wildcats of Villanova aren’t a very big team, but they have a ton of athletic, physical guards who can score and rebound in bunches. Scottie Reynolds is their star point guard and he has the size to give North Carolina’s small, speedy Ty Lawson problems at times.
But Lawson can blow by him on the fast break and set up North Carolina’s stable of explosive scorers like Wayne Ellington, a three-point specialist, and Danny Green, an athletic swingman who can do a little bit of everything.
North Carolina might have a hard time guarding Villanova’s Dante Cunningham, one of the best mid-range shooters in the game, but Villanova will struggle even more with the Tar Heels’ Tyler Hansbrough down low.
Hansbrough struggles with athletic big men who can block shots but Villanova doesn’t have anyone who fits that description and that should spell their doom in this match-up.
Prediction: North Carolina wins, 87-79
Championship Game: Michigan State vs. North Carolina
This would be a rematch of a game also played at Ford Field back on December 3, 2008 which North Carolina won easily by a score of 98-63. The Tar Heels won’t be able to run away from MSU as easily this time, especially since the Spartans missed Goran Suton at center in that game and will have him back, but UNC will probably be too strong all-around for MSU to beat even with a raucous home crowd behind them.
MSU’s one shot might be for forward Raymar Morgan to finally look like his old self and have a breakout game. Morgan has battled mononucleosis for most of the season
Defense usually wins championships in all sports, but strong offensive teams seem to trump all in college basketball, and the Tar Heels score a staggering 90+ points per game compared to about 72 on the year for MSU. That should be the difference e as UNC brings home the title.
Prediction: North Carolina wins, 76-68