ACC Man's Finally Four
Well fans, that frenetic period known to many as March Madness is quickly drawing to it's inevitable conclusion and of course the question on everyone's mind is 'Who will cut down the nets Monday night?'. ACC Man's answer is "Where's a four-sided coin when you need one?". Now I know you're not supposed to answer a question with a question ... and that to-date I've done a more than admirable job in picking the teams to advance (certainly backed up by countless hours of reading about and watching every team I possibly could), but I must admit it could go anywhere from here! The good news is that [on paper] we have the best Final 4 since 1993 (UNC, Kentucky, Michigan, and Kansas). I truly believe that the four best teams have advanced to this point and that each of them is capable of winning the championship. This also implies that all four teams are quite capable of losing, and as we know only two teams (save those below .500 teams that don't have conference tourneys) end their season with a win - cruel reality that it is. Thinking positive however, I think one of the teams will assert themselves in the next three days and show that championship meddle which will separate them from the pack. So, here's how I think it'll happen:
Duke-Maryland: Devils appear to have almost sleep-walked into the Final 4 ... seems as if they're playing poorly enough to let other teams 'hang around' while never actually having had a concern about losing. I've almost concluded that they've been looking to be challenged and that if their competition won't challenge them then they'll create one. Terps also have not played especially well until the Stanford game where they were dominate and certainly had the best performance of any of the Final 4 teams - playing much like they did down the stretch of the regular season. Their ability to sustain a double-digit lead through entire second half against talented Cardinal was extremely impressive! So, if both teams play the same way they did in previous game Terps win - there, that was easy ... not so fast there, cause that's a mighty big if. I won't beat a dead horse about previous match-ups this season, but will offer a different angle. Terps have made their first [ever] Final 4 and have to be ecstatic, relieved, and satisfied to be there. Devils on the other hand have reached 'another' Final 4 and will be disappointed with anything less than the title. As such, I have concerns about Maryland being able to stay completely focused on the matter at hand, though I do think playing a familiar team will help a great deal. Still, I think Duke will draw upon experience and season long objective to propel them to victory. A few X-factors to consider are Jason Williams shooting percentage and ability to shoot within the flow of the offense, whether Boozer can bring Lonnie Baxter back down to earth, and, speaking of dead horses, the resurgence of Terence Morris (his early three pointers helped establish tone against Cardinal and his boardwork down the stretch was a key factor in maintaining lead) ... so look for these to be things which could sway the outcome. In any event, we will have an ACC team playing for the championship!!
Arizona-Michigan State: Wildcats hung on against [what I feel was vastly overrated] hatchet squad from Illinois (six players fouling out?) Loren Woods almost single-handedly carried 'Cats down the stretch and showed he can be an imposing force when motivated (though that motivation comes and goes like the wind). 'Cats also got key contributions from Walton, Wessel, and Edgerson, but I don't think they should count on that again ... at the same time, they got almost nothing from Michael Wright, who I believe is one of the most dominant interior players in college ball. So, if Woods maintains level of play, Wright plays like Wright, and bench makes some contributions then I think Arizona can play with Spartans. Mind you I said play with, not beat. Michigan State has depth, talent, and unselfishness that gives true meaning to the word team. UNC [radio] fans know that after every game Woody and Mick go over the 'hustle stats' (offensive rebounds, steals, blocks, etc.) and these are areas where Michigan State excels .. and it's no coincidence that team winning the hustle stats usually wins the ballgame. I wish there was a stat for loose balls dove on the floor for because Spartans would certainly dominate that one as well. Their in your shirt guards play terrific perimeter defense and their inside players' combination of physicality and athleticism can't be matched by many teams (none in the Final 4). Add in their most (of the final 4 teams) consistent play throughout the tournament and ACC Man sees Spartans playing Monday night to defend their title.
Well, there you have it. I'm not even going to hazard a guess for Monday night since it could easily be Arizona and Maryland playing. I just hope that all four teams play up to their capabilities and as such, we as basketball fans should be well rewarded! So enjoy, the final weekend (I know I will) and I'll visit with you next week to share some final [tourney] thoughts.
- ACC Man