The only big news in Gamecocks land today is that we lost on the diamond to visiting Arkansas yesterday by a score of 6-4. The Hogs are one of the hottest teams in the country, so it would be a major accomplishment for us to come back and take the series.
The other big event today, of course, is the Final Four. I'll go ahead and admit that, while I've watched UNC and UConn play a couple of times this year, I don't know a whole lot about the other two teams, Villanova and Michigan State, although I did get to see the epic Elite Eight battle between Villanova and Pitt. Despite my ignorance, I think it's only right that I join the rest of the world and take a stab at predicting winners for tonight's battles between MSU-UConn and UNC-'Nova.
The most interesting thing about this game is that, unlike the following game between UNC and 'Nova, MSU and UConn play a fairly similar style of ball that emphasizes defense and sharing the ball and taking good shots on offense. Both are also well-coached teams that have won NCAA Titles in the past decade. UConn comes in as the favorite, having had a slightly better year in a tougher conference. However, after they dismantled overall top seed Louisville with a dominant defensive performance, it would be difficult to deny that State has a very good chance in this game. The Spartans are playing at the top of their game, which is the usual for them under Tom Izzo, one of game's greatest coaches when the pressure is on in March.
So what's the key to this game? I would say (and again, I'm not the most knowledgeable guy in the world about these teams) that the key is how State deals with UConn's Dikembe Mutombo-like center, Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet is a killer shot blocker; most teams more or less avoid the paint while he's in the game because, more often than not, you get your shot blocked if you take it to the hole against Thabeet. However, Thabeet's weaknesses are (1) foul trouble and (2) running the court and fatigue. State isn't a running team, so I'm not sure if fatigue will play a factor, but it may. However, if State can get Thabeet in early foul trouble, they will have dealt a crippling blow to UConn's formidable defense. I like Tom Izzo's chances to come up with a game plan to make that happen, and Izzo's disciplined team will be ready to execute. Despite UConn's overall talent advantage, I'm taking the Spartans in this one. It's worth noting that, with the Final Four in Detroit, this is something of a de facto home game for Sparty.
'Nova won the tournament's most dramatic game in the Elite Eight against Pitt. However, I think they're coming up against a much tougher opponent tonight against the Tar Heels. UNC is loaded; everyone knows Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, but there are really no weak links here, either in the starting five or on the bench. 'Nova is obviously talented themselves, but, despite the mid-season troubles, there is a reason why many called this year's UNC one of the best teams ever coming into the season. They're just stacked with extremely talented and experienced players.
The game will feature a clash in styles, as the athletic Heels love to run the floor whereas 'Nova likes to slow it down a bit. 'Nova stands a chance in this game if they can force the Heels to play their game. Indeed, UNC has faltered at times this year when forced out of their comfort zone. That said, though, I just don't see it happening. UNC has crushed their opponents throughout the NCAAs, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them continue their torrid play here. I'm taking UNC, perhaps by double digits.
I'm also going to admit a dirty secret: while I don't like UNC (what USC grad does?), I like Tyler Hansbrough. To be honest, I don't understand the animosity towards this guy. Sure, he likes to grand stand from time to time, and the overexposure from ESPN can be annoying. But what great player doesn't like to show off, and is it his fault that ESPN has credibility issues when it comes to Tobacco Road hoops? What I see in Hansbrough is a hard working guy that through desire and love for the game has managed to outplay more athletic players on numerous occasions. Moreover, he's a guy that has stayed in school, although his slightly marginal draft prospects may have played a role in his decision. In any case, I'd like to see him win the title he came back to school for. And then I'll go back to my UNC hating ways.