High potential for upsets in Final Four

By Jack Wickham

As another year of college basketball draws to an end, it is hard to imagine that anyone could have guessed the teams in this year’s Final Four. North Carolina and the University of Connecticut, the only two number one seeded teams to advance, were both ranked below the other number one teams, Pittsburgh and Louisville, at the end of the regular season. Joining them are number two seeded Michigan State and perhaps the biggest surprise of all, number three seeded Villanova.From the very beginning, the tournament was marred by various upsets. Twelfth seed Western Kentucky, who beat a higher ranked Drake team last year with a buzzer-beating three point shot, repeated upsets this year, beating the fifth seeded Fighting Illini. Florida State, another strong fifth seed, fell to twelfth seed Wisconsin. In perhaps the largest disruption of the tournament, thirteenth seed Cleveland State beat Wake Forest, a temporarily number one ranked team during the regular season, by a 15-point margin.

However, with the exception of Arizona, a twelfth seed who made it to the Sweet Sixteen, the higher ranked teams started to take over. The Elite Eight had no team higher than a three seed, and while two games in the Sweet Sixteen involved three seeds beating two seeds (Missouri beating Memphis and Villanova beating Duke), there were no large upsets.

The Elite Eight brought about more upsets. The first was Villanova’s win over Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, led by forward DeJuan Blair, was widely regarded to be a favorite to win the championship. While Blair, who was fourth in the nation in rebounding during the regular season, was the most dominant player on the team, the Panthers had a very strong roster overall. Point guard Levance Fields was second in the nation in assists, and guard-forward Sam Young averaged 18.7 points per game, a team high. Though Nova had beaten Pittsburgh once during the season, most expected it to succumb to Pitt’s overpowering offense. However, Villanova’s Wildcats took control of the game early on. Though Pitt’s trio put up good numbers, the rest of the team had a combined 18 points, a relatively low number. In the end, Villanova’s steady control over the speed of the game and stellar free-throw shooting (22 for 23 attempts) won them the game 78-76.

In another upset, number two seed Michigan State beat Louisville, the number one ranked team in the tournament. Both teams were fairly well balanced in terms of their rosters, with deep benches. The first half of the game was somewhat inconclusive, and after eight lead changes, MSU’s Spartans led 30-27 at the half. However, with center Goran Suton’s tremendous effort at both ends of the court, Michigan State pulled away with a huge lead, at one point gaining a 17 point advantage over the Cardinals, who lost 64-52.

The other two games did not yield surprising results. While Missouri’s Tigers played well, Connecticut held a consistent lead for most of the game. Huskie guard A.J. Price garnered 18 points, and with center Hasheem Thabeet’s 13 rebounds, Connecticut’s game was simply too tough for Missouri, who yielded the game by a score of 82-75.

North Carolina also had a very strong game against Oklahoma. When it seemed that star forward Tyler Hansbrough was not playing as well as he had been (ending the game with only 6 points and 8 rebounds, both low stats for him), guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington stepped up with 19 points and 18 points respectively. Despite Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin collecting 16 rebounds and 23 points, the Tar Heels held a substantial lead the entire game, at one point leading Oklahoma by 21 points. In the end, North Carolina defeated the Sooners in a 72-60 victory.

In the Final Four, which happens Saturday, April 3, Connecticut will test the waters against Michigan State, while North Carolina will play Villanova. While clearly the number one seeds are the favorites in these matchups, the tournament has shown us that anything can happen.