Final Four Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 04/01/2009
I'm about to look at how I see the Final Four playing out. Before I do, though, I should make a disclosure - my bracket is an absolute disaster. Of the four remaining teams, North Carolina is the only one I had in Detroit, and I don't have them winning again. I don't think that those picks represent everything I can bring to the table now, but they are there staring back at me every time I open my eyes. Or close them, for that matter. It's ugly. My wife beat me with her bracket, and her leading criteria for picking teams is how cute their mascots are. That trauma aside, let's take a look at my Final Four predictions:
The first challenge for me this year, and pretty much every year in the Final Four, is to determine how much of a role emotion is going to be allowed to play in things. Michigan State and Villanova are both very likable teams - they have feisty, underdog-type rosters, and they are fun to watch. They both also have good stories going for them - Michigan State is playing almost at home for the pride of a state that has been pummeled almost into submission for the last couple of years, and Villanova is a proud school looking to recapture past glory. On the other side you have to heavyweights who have reached their seemingly inevitable destination despite punching below their weight at times this year. The Tar Heels are choking on so many silver spoons, while the Huskies have some ugly off-court accusations clouding their perception. On the basis of warmth and fuzziness this is a slam dunk.
The problem, though, is that the two teams that kind of make me ill are also the two teams that are clearly the most talented out there, and are clearly, and correctly, favored significantly here. That doesn't mean that I have to go for UConn and North Carolina, but it does mean that I have to make sure I have a particularly sound reason to back the underdogs if I choose to do so.
The other thing that I have been considering outside of the details of the specific games is the general style of games to expect. With reasonably large spreads set it can be tempting to look at the opportunity for a team to potentially lose and still cover. The problem, though, is that the large majority of games we have seen so far this year have been one-sided and decisive. The games could certainly be close, as Villanova's last one was, but it seems at least as likely given what has already happened that whichever team wins it will win it convincingly. As such, with obvious considerations aside, I am mostly going to look at these games exclusive of the spread. That means that I won't assume that the favorites will win without covering, and that I would very likely be drawn to the money line on the underdogs.
Michigan State vs. UConn - The first temptation here would be to say that Michigan State dismantled Louisville so they could do it again against another Big East team. Tom Izzo prepared his team for that one as well as a team can be prepared, so it could happen again. The difference, though, is that Louisville doesn't have anyone like Hasheem Thabeet. Michigan State hasn't seen a lot of traditional but dynamic big men this year, and they have struggled against them when they have. I also worry about Michigan State's mental state. They were so focused against Louisville in large part because of their determination to play at home. Now that they have accomplished that goal it's hard to believe that they will be as motivated as they were. I expect a good game, but I expect UConn to just be too much for the Spartans in the end.
Villanova vs. North Carolina - I'll acknowledge up front that North Carolina is the better overall team, and that they are more likely to win. The challenge, then, is to determine if Villanova has enough of a chance to win to justify a play on them. To win, Villanova has to do two things in my mind - out-rebound the Tar Heels, and shoot threes at a higher percentage. They have the potential to do both. More importantly, it doesn't take a particularly active imagination to see them doing so. In fact, I think that they would do so often enough to make a money line play - somewhere in the neighborhood of +290 - have some value. If I was forced to make a straight point spread pick, though, I would have to stick with North Carolina - they stand a better chance of winning, and chances seem good that if thy win they will win big.
I won't make a final game prediction, but I will say one thing - the Big East has been by far the strongest conference on the season and in the tournament, and I fully expect one of the conference's teams to cut down the nets on Monday night.