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Sunday, Feb 26, 2017

Final Four Prepare To Motor Into Detroit

Finally, we have four on the floor for the Motor City. It's a good group - No. 1-seeded Connecticut vs. No. 2 Michigan State, then No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Villanova - in Saturday's Final Four at Detroit's Ford Field. The Big East has two teams in the field (and honestly, it is probably disappointed not to get one or two more). Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun is going for his third national title, while Villanova coach Jay Wright is hoping to wake up the echoes from Rollie Massimino's 1985 Wildcats. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, once again, displayed his masterful ability to have his tough-minded team peak at the proper time.
And North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough gets one more crack at his Lifetime Achievement Award. Here's an early peek at some Final Four headlines: PLAYERS TO WATCH * Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina - He could put the capper on one of the best careers in recent college basketball history. * Scottie Reynolds, Villanova - The author of a shot - a mad last-second dash to the basket against Pittsburgh - that will live forever in Villanova basketball lore. * Goran Suton, Michigan State - The center is coming on strong in the NCAA Tournament (20 points and nine rebounds against Kansas, 19 points and 10 rebounds against Louisville). * Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut - The 7-foot-3 center, reminiscent of a young Akeem Olajuwon, is a compelling shot-blocking force.

CONFERENCE CALL The Big East's dominance this season was well-documented. It placed five teams in the Sweet 16 - a first - and has two teams in the Final Four (Connecticut and Villanova). But long term, the Big East hasn't been the dominant league. In the past decade (2000-09 seasons), the ACC has produced nine Final Four teams and three national champions. Next in line, perhaps surprisingly to some, is the Big Ten with eight Final Four teams. Here's the conference-by-conference Final Four rundown for the decade: ACC (9) - 2000 North Carolina, 2001 Duke*, 2001 Maryland, 2002 Maryland*, 2004 Georgia Tech, 2004 Duke, 2005 North Carolina*, 2007 North Carolina, 2009 North Carolina. Big Ten (8) - 2000 Michigan State*, 2000 Wisconsin, 2001 Michigan State, 2002 Indiana, 2005 Illinois, 2005 Michigan State, 2007 Ohio State, 2009 Michigan State. Big 12 (6) - 2002 Oklahoma, 2002 Kansas, 2003 Kansas, 2003 Texas, 2004 Oklahoma State, 2008 Kansas* Big East (5) - 2003 Syracuse*, 2004 Connecticut*, 2007 Georgetown, 2009 Connecticut, 2009 Villanova. Pac-10 (4) - 2001 Arizona, 2006 UCLA, 2007 UCLA, 2008 UCLA SEC (4) - 2000 Florida, 2006 Florida*, 2006 LSU, 2007 Florida*, Conference USA (3) - 2003 Marquette, 2005 Louisville, 2008 Memphis Colonial (1) - 2006 George Mason. *--won national championship.
HOME COOKING Michigan State, the Midwest Region champion, couldn't be happier to make the Final Four at Detroit's Ford Field. The Spartans are the 10th home-state team to reach a Final Four since the event began alternating sites. Here are the nine others: * 1958 Kentucky (beat Seattle 84-72 in championship game at Louisville). * 1959 Louisville (lost to West Virginia 94-79 in national semifinal at Louisville). * 1960 California (lost to Ohio State 75-55 in championship game at San Francisco). * 1968 UCLA (beat North Carolina 78-55 in championship game at Los Angeles). * 1972 UCLA (beat Florida State 81-76 in championship game at Los Angeles). * 1974 N.C. State (beat Marquette 76-64 in championship game at Greensboro, N.C.). * 1975 UCLA (beat Kentucky 92-85 in championship game at San Diego). * 1980 Purdue (lost to UCLA 67-62 in national semifinal at Indianapolis). * 1994 Duke (lost to Arkansas 76-72 in championship game at Charlotte). WELCOME BACK When North Carolina coach visited Ford Field on Dec. 3, somebody told him, "See you back here in April." "I'll be back," Williams said. "And I hope to have my whole team with me." Mission accomplished. If the Tar Heels perform in December's manner - UNC 98, Michigan State 63 - Detroit will have a powder-blue hue. MICHIGAN MEMORIES Thirty years ago, Magic Johnson-led Michigan State defeated Larry Bird-led Indiana State 75-64 to capture the 1979 national title. Twenty years ago, behind the overtime free throw of Rumeal Robinson, the Michigan Wolverines downed Seton Hall 80-79 to capture the 1989 national title. Ten years ago, at St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field, Michigan State reached its first Final Four under Izzo, but fell to Duke 68-62 in the national semifinals. What will 2009 have in store? PREDICTIONS Make no mistake, Michigan State-Villanova would be a terrific championship game. But sentiment aside for the home-state Spartans and fast-rushing Wildcats, I don't see it happening. The final? It's Connecticut vs. North Carolina. The champion? North Carolina in an epic ACC-Big East confrontation.