A look at the games in the Final Four
JIM O'CONNELL AP Basketball Writer | 4/3/2009, 9:08 a.m.
The Big East has two teams in the Final Four, but it's Michigan State who will be hosting the party. Here's a look at the matchups Saturday in Detroit:
Connecticut (31-4) Vs. Michigan State (30-6)
Connecticut has managed to navigate its way through a maze of off-court problems to reach the Final Four for a third time, all in the last 11 years. Coach Jim Calhoun missed the tournament opener as he was hospitalized to treat dehydration, but the Huskies were dominant on the defensive end in a couple of blowout wins.
The day before the regional semifinals, a published report alleged the program broke NCAA recruiting rules, but the team refused to be distracted, beating Purdue and Missouri to advance. The defense has dominated all tournament as no opponent has shot better than 41 percent against the Huskies, who have 25 blocked shots in the four games.
Michigan State rode its trademark defense and rebounding - and threw in some balanced scoring - to get to play in a Final Four just 90 miles from campus. The Spartans capped the four-game run by beating overall No. 1 seed Louisville, which was looking to join fellow Big East teams Connecticut and Villanova in the national semifinals.
Eight Spartans scored in double figures over the four games, but it was the steady play inside and sudden offense of Goran Suton that allowed the Spartans to reach the Final Four for the fifth time since 1999. The regional semifinal win over defending national champion Kansas will become the signature win in the run as the Spartans overcame a 13-point first-half deficit and went 16-of-17 from the free throw to rally for the win.
Villanova (30-7) Vs. North Carolina (32-4)
The argument can be made that no team in the tournament has played defense the way Villanova has. The Wildcats followed an early 3-point scare from American with smothering defensive performances against UCLA and Duke before surviving a Big East battle with Pittsburgh in the regional final. Despite not having any real size, the Wildcats have plenty of perimeter players who get out and defend and convert almost every turnover into points.
It wasn't all defense, however, as the Wildcats scored at least 77 points in the four games. Except for the opener when Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham both had 25 points, it has been a balanced attack despite struggles from 3-point range.
Except for the first half of the LSU game in the second round, no team has really challenged North Carolina, and the Tar Heels even pulled away for a 14-point win over the Tigers.
The biggest worry has been Ty Lawson's toe injury, but after missing the opener against Radford, he has looked like the point guard who was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. The Tar Heels almost matched their season average of 90 points per game in the tournament, but it was their defense that stood out, especially in the regional final as they held Oklahoma to 60 points, 19 below its average.