Yes, I’ll admit it, my early-season Final Fours picks were weak. One (Gonzaga, Sweet Sixteen), by its nature, was destined for inaccuracy. Rarely does choosing your favourite teams pay off.
Another (Pitt, Elite Eight) was grounded by Scottie Reynolds’s end-to-end rush and score. One more (Purdue, Sweet Sixteen) was dominated by a bully. And the last (North Carolina) has looked good in making it to the promised land.
The Heels and the UConn Huskies have looked great so far and the Villanova Wildcats have beaten the who’s who (UCLA, Duke, Pitt) in a very tough bracket.
But wait. There lurks an evil force in Motor City. Despite being a two-seed (and now, we realize, a legitimate two-seed), the Michigan State Spartans throttled Louisville on Sunday to earn a spot, and a distinct home-court advantage, in the Final Four.
So complete was the win against the Cards, that Coach Izzo even seemed to be pleased.
Even as the tournament was progressing, it was difficult to Michigan State in the Final Four. Tough wins over USC and Kansas tested their mettle before their dominant performance against overall No. 1 Louisville.
The Cards looked sluggish and beaten halfway through the second half and while this wasn’t their best game, the Spartans had plenty to do with that.
In fact, that they have posted sixteen wins over top 50 RPI teams indicates not only how good they have become, but how tough their schedule was over the course of the entire season.
While defeats against Maryland and Northwestern seemed a little uncharacteristic, the December 3rd loss by 35 at home (Ford Field, no less) to North Carolina makes one wonder if State has come far enough to compete on this stage.
Connecticut presents a huge challenge for the Spartans. With virtually no inside scoring against Louisville, it is going to be at least as difficult to score in the paint against Thabeet and Company.
The advantage of being able to control the tempo won’t seem as big if outside shots aren’t falling. But with potentially 70,000 fans behind them, maybe that won’t matter.
The Final: Okay, based on my picks, go with the opposite. I see a UConn vs. North Carolina final. Would I love to see the opposite? Absolutely.
But I don’t know if either Michigan State or Villanova has the overall skill and depth to stay with these two teams. Villanova has been great thus far in the tournament but Carolina looks as if they have just been waiting for this.
UConn, which generally plays with a chip on its shoulder, appears to have a bigger chip, which is trouble for any opponent.
So goodbye to Duke, Texas, Pitt, Kansas and yes, my beloved Zags, for another year. Thanks for the bracket (busted) memories and we’ll meet again, maybe in Buffalo, for another bout of Madness.