My Early Picks for the 2009 Final Four

Scott BarbineCorrespondent INovember 19, 2008

Last year was one of the most exciting Final Fours in recent memory. We had the Kansas Jayhawks blowing out the North Carolina Tar Heels twice in the same game.

Then we had that memorable championship game. Mario Chalmers' buzzer-beating three-pointer to send the game into overtime will go down as one of the greatest shots in college basketball history.

The 2008 Final Four brought us all four No. 1 seeds, something that had never happened before. I don't foresee that happening again this year, but I do see another fantastic year of college basketball capped off by another tremendous Final Four.

Here are the four teams that I see competing to be crowned National Champions at the end of the year.


University of North Carolina Tar Heels

Even the most casual college hoops fan knows that Roy Williams' crew is the toughest team going into the season, with All-American forward Tyler Hansbrough leading the charge.

Joining Hansbrough are future NBA prospects point guard Ty Lawson, shooting guard Wayne Ellington, and forward Danny Green. Lawson, Ellington, and Green all put their names into the NBA Draft, only to pull them out before the deadline.

UNC goes into the season with the most depth out of any team in the country, and Coach Williams will rely on that heavily. The fast-paced offense of the Tar Heels means that a solid bench is a must. Rotating players early and often has been a staple of North Caroline basketball since Williams became the coach.

Players like Will Graves, Mike Copeland, Deon Thompson, and Bobby Frasor will all factor into the game plan just as much as the stars, although they are lesser known.

Then there are the freshmen. Big men Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller will both see significant minutes as first year players. Davis is projected to be a defensive monster down low and Zeller already has a solid offensive game, as he showed in his first game (18 points).


University of Connecticut Huskies

The Huskies return their prized possession, 7'3" center Hasheem Thabeet. Although his offensive game is still a work in progress, no one can deny his defensive prowess and ability to rebound.

Thabeet has averaged 4.1 blocks per game in his UConn career, a magnificent feat. The giant from Tanzania is also a very good decision maker and makes the shots that he should, shooting a career 58.5 percent from the field.

Thabeet is joined in the frontcourt by senior forward Jeff Adrien. Adrien has quietly been producing great numbers the past two years and will be a force this year alongside Thabeet.

One of the biggest catalysts for success this year will be the return of senior guard A.J. Price. Price went down with an injury in the first round game of the NCAA Tournament in the spring. The Huskies will depend on Price to have a full recovery in order for them to compete this year.

The bench play will be the biggest question for UConn this year. With some role players leaving the team and transferring, coach Jim Calhoun will rely heavily on some highly touted underclassmen, mainly Nate Miles.


Michigan State University Spartans

It seems as though every year coach Tom Izzo brings a competitive team to the table, and this season will be no different.

Junior forward Raymar Morgan seems to be ready to take that star status that he has flashed in the past.  Joining Morgan in the frontcourt are big man Goran Suton and super freshman Delvon Roe.

The Spartans have three solid guards that will scare any team.  With Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen, and Durrell Summers combined with the great frontcourt, no one in the Big Ten will have enough firepower to match up with MSU this year.


Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Coach Mike Brey will have a veteran-laden team this year to lead him to the promised land, with four returning starters including stars Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney.

Tory Jackson will return at point guard to join McAlarney in the backcourt.  Replacing center Rob Kurz will present itself as the only real problem that the Irish will face this year.  If Luke Zeller doesn't fill in well, they can always go with a smaller lineup.

Harangody will be in the running for National Player of the Year this season, and there is no reason to think that he can't do it.  With the way McAlarney shoots the three ball, it makes it tough on defenses to collapse on Harangody down low. 

The stellar combination of Harangody and McAlarney will lead the Fighting Irish to the Final Four, and possibly to the championship.