The 2009 NCAA tournament has seen its share of great match-ups. The upsets and the blowouts, the last minute heroics and the last minute meltdowns, the unbelievable shots and the rim-rattling dunks, the battles in the trenches and the perimeter dominance, the veteran players and the young guns, the joy and the pain, the winner moves on and the loser goes home.
After four rounds of play, only four teams remain. This is how they got here.
Aside from a mediocre showing against UCLA (19-27), the Wildcats put teams away late in the game by hitting from the charity stripe.
In their first round game against American, a game that they were trailing by 14 in the second half, they hit 26-29 from the line versus American's lousy 3-5. A late 19-2 run by Villanova sealed the game, but what kept the streak alive was the free throw excellence of the Wildcats.
Their last two games, against Duke and against Pitt, the Wildcats shot an incredible 89 percent from the line (41-46). In a very close game against the Panthers, Villanova did not miss a free throw until the last minute of the game (22-23). The miss did not prove to be detremental, however, as the Wildcats moved on after an amazing baseline-to-baseline play by Scottie Reynolds in the closing seconds.
If Villanova can keep the hot hand at the line, they will be tough to beat in Detroit.
This Tar Heel team, starting all upperclassmen, has advanced to the Regional Finals of their bracket each of the last three years. After a tough loss to eventual champion Kansas last year, UNC has gotten over the hump and is looking like a very well oiled machine going into their game against Villanova.
Ty Lawson is the most efficient point guard in the NCAA and is only a junior. In the three games he's played this tournament, (he sat out the first round with a toe injury) he has scored 61 points and has dished out 20 assists with only two turnovers. Two. Leading by example is an understatement.
Tyler Hansbrough picked up two fouls within the first eight minutes of the first half against the Oklahoma Sooners which gave UNC an immediate disadvantage. However, Hansbrough, 2008 Player of the Year, knows how to play with fouls because he's been playing major minutes since he was a freshmen. He finished the game against the Sooners with eight points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, and just the two fouls.
Led by those two experienced basketball players, the Tar Heels are looking like a lock for the championship game.
The Spartans may be the most underrated team left in the tournament and Goran Suton may be the most underrated player that was in the tournament this year at all. Averaging just 9.5 points and 7.6 rebounds all season, Suton stepped his game up exponentially during MSU's run to the Final Four.
Against Rob Morris in the first round, Suton had 11 points and 17 rebounds while hitting all five of his free throws to help the Spartans advance.
In a Sweet 16 match up with Kansas, he logged the most minutes he's played all year—33—and made each one count. He finished the nail-biter with 20 points, nine rebounds, and five steals while hitting 50 percent of his field goals and all three of his free throws.
Against the Louisville Cardinals, Suton put on a show. He scored 19 points and added 10 rebounds. Just for good measure, he decided to hit three shots from beyond the arc—equaling the most three-pointers he's even attempted this year.
If Suton can keep playing at such a high level, the Spartans will be tough to knock off.
Is there ever been a team in the NCAA as deep as this Huskies team? Even with Jerome Dyson out for the season the Huskies managed to get eight different players on the board against Chattanooga with three eclipsing the 20 point mark and five in double figures.
One key about the Huskies depth is that a new player steps up each night to push them to victory.
Against Texas A&M, A.J. Price was on fire. He hit 4-7 from behind the arc on his way to 27 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Adding insult to injury, nine different players scored for the huskies that night including walk-on senior Jim Veronick. That must have been the great one minute of playing time in his entire life.
Against Purdue it was Hasheem Thabeet who took the spot light. Thabeet shot 6-7 from the field on the way to 15 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocks in 36 minutes of action. The Defensive Player of the Year was out for blood that night. The Boilmakers allowed four Huskies to reach double-figures in scoring with seven Huskies total getting a basket.
It was freshman Kemba Walker that stole the show against the Missouri Tigers. Coming off the bench for senior Craig Austrie, Walker showed why he will be among the elite point guards in college basketball next year. As the clock hit triple zero, Walker had tied a career high for points with 23 while adding five rebounds and five assists. He shot 7-9 from the field and 9-10 from the free throw line. Every Husky that got into this game scored a basket, even Donnell Beverly who got only two minutes of action.
How could we forget Stanley Robinson and Jeff Adrien, two players who are equally as pivotal in UConn's run to the Final Four? Though neither had a break-out game in the tournament that wasn't over shadowed by another player's heroics, both forwards are putting up incredible numbers.
Robinson is averaging nearly 15 points and seven rebounds a game in the tournament while shooting over 50 percent from the field. His 24 points against Chattanooga led the team and his 11 rebounds against Purdue was second only to Thabeet.
Adrien, the most consistent player on the UConn roster, is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds in the tournament. He put up 23 points on 11-16 shooting against A&M and looked very comfortable putting up the 15-18 foot jumpshot...NBA scouts take note.
When playing the Huskies, you must pick your poison. You might be able to stop one or two of their guys, but just know there's another three or four waiting to make you pay for it.