|UConn can and will… Trags Take||04.03.09 at 3:03 pm ET|
National semifinal-Michigan State (30-6) vs. Connecticut (31-4), 6:07 p.m. ET, CBS-TV.
For a team that is a No. 2 seed playing on its virtual home court, the Michigan State Spartans sure seem like a considerable underdog against Connecticut in Saturday’s first national semifinal at Ford Field in Detroit. There’s good reason.
Michigan State fans, coaches and players need to travel just 85 miles to get to its destination on Saturday evening. And when they get there, there will be a tremendously gifted and motivated team that awaits them.
Back on Feb. 1, when they lost at home to eventual NIT champ Penn State, it seemed a lot longer than 85 miles to Destination Detroit. But this team is coached by Tom Izzo and he never lets his team lose focus or confidence. And he didn’t this time either. They regrouped and, except for a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinals, the Spartans have been on a mission, winning 10 of their last 11 and playing their best basketball in the NCAAs, reaching the Final Four for the fifth time in 11 seasons.
Their opponent, the Connecticut Huskies haven’t been short on storylines. But certainly, thanks to some ace journalism from Yahoo!, it’s been the wrong kind. Coach Jim Calhoun is once again the lightning rod of a program that is back to the Final Four for the third time since 1999. The last two trips have resulted in titles.
The tournament for UConn began with their coach in a Philadelphia hospital and continued the next weekend with allegations of serious recruiting violations. But the Huskies aren’t playing like there’s another shoe to drop. They’ve taken care of business, playing like a family that has come together in the worst of times. Throw in the best talent this side of Chapel Hill and you have a practically unbeatable combination.
Home court advantage or not, the Huskies will prevail because they have passed the test of the best conference in college basketball, they have passed the test of off-the-court scrutiny and they have passed maybe the most important test and that is winning the approval of their taskmaster of a coach.
Oh yeah, they have a starting lineup that will likely send at least another three players to the NBA, in forward Jeff Adrien, center Hasheem Thabeet and guard A.J. Price.
Here’s how Connecticut winds up playing on Monday night in Detroit.
1: Talent. Connecticut has the most athletically gifted players at three different positions of the four teams left. Thabeet averages 13.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.3 blocks a game, add that to Jeff Adrien’s 13.7 PPG and 10.0 rebounds, and you have an overpowering front court. A.J. Price averages 14.7 points a game and can be deadly from three-point range.
2. Motivation. No one will argue that the investigation into the program has no impact on the players when they’re playing the game. But the players know before they take the court they’re playing for Calhoun’s reputation and a title would be an indisputable statement.
3. UConn is no Louisville. The Huskies don’t have to rely on pressure and forcing turnovers the way the Cardinals did in the Midwest final. Few teams could handle Louisville but Michigan State did. UConn won’t get overmatched on the glass the way Louisville did. UConn outrebounded Missouri, 47-32.
4. Get to know Goran Suton. The 6-10 senior will be matched up with Thabeet in some way shape or form and it will be up to him to challenge Thabeet, bring him away from the post and perhaps tire him out if MSU stands a chance. Suton did a masterful job against Louisville and was named Most Oustanding player of Midwest Regional.
5. 1985 Karma. Didn’t you use that for Villanova? Why yes I did. And why do I bring it up again? Because that was the year that two Big East teams (Villanova, Georgetown) met on the final Monday night of the season to crown a champion. It’s in the cards again.
How they got here:
No. 2 seed Michigan State won the Midwest Regional. Beat No. 15 Robert Morris, 77-62. Beat No. 11 USC. 74-69. Beat No. 3 Kansas 67-62. Beat No. 1 Louisville, 64-52.
No. 1 seed Connecticut won the West Regional. Beat No. 16 Chattanooga, 103-47. Beat No. 9 Texas A&M, 92-66. Beat No. 4 Purdue, 74-60. Beat No. 3 Missouri, 82-75.
Michigan State took apart one Big East power by playing a slow down game with Louisville and taking care of the basketball, something they did not do consistently during the season, averaging nearly 14 per game. Louisville had no fastbreak points-ZERO. It’s too much to expect that again against a team like Connecticut.
Connecticut 75, Michigan State 65
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