It”s like this every season. Everyone gets excited about the “parity” in college basketball and the Cinderella performances in the NCAA Tournament, and then the Final Four rolls around and all the teams are big schools from the power conferences.
And so here we are. We”ve come all this way, only to see two teams from the ACC, one from the Big Ten and one from the Pac-10.
Sure, watching the NCAA Tournament is frustrating. You probably threw down your pool sheet a long time ago (thanks a lot, Iowa State and North Carolina) and decided to just be a fan.
And now, you just wish that someone other than four of the preseason top seven teams would make the Final Four.
Well, instead of moping around the dorm room as if there”s really enough room to mope pick yourself up and watch the games next week. They will not offer the promise of a no-name school from a no-name conference winning the title, but they will offer the best that college basketball has to offer.
East No. 1 Duke vs. West No. 3 Maryland
Duke and Maryland have played six halves and an overtime this season, and have proved only that they may be the most evenly matched teams in the land.
The Terrapins, losers of two of the three games this season, defeated Stanford behind their wide-bodied big man, Lonnie Baxter and his 24 points and six rebounds.
The key for Maryland was its shooting, as the Terrapins took advantage of their team quickness and Baxter”s strength to make 58 percent of their shots.
This will not be the case against Duke.
The Blue Devils offer the nation”s best defensive player in forward Shane Battier and a just-as-wide body inside with Carlos Boozer.
If Maryland is to win, they must find a way to do two things: Stop Jason Williams, Duke”s superstar point guard, and find a way to get its own supposed superstar, Terence Morris, on track.
Morris has been less than dazzling to this point in the tournament, averaging less than 10 points per game. For a player that was a preseason All-America selection and a candidate for national Player of the Year, that is unacceptable.
Duke”s Naismith Award winner, Shane Battier, has been anything but Morris-like. Battier has averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds per game in the tournament providing the Scottie to Jason Williams” Michael.
Maryland will need to use shooting guard Juan Dixon”s defensive ability to stop Williams from scoring at will and create fast breaks and easy baskets for the Terps, which he has done at times in the tournament.
This game should be similar to the ACC Tournament semifinal game between the two teams, which Duke won on a tip-in by Nate James in the closing seconds. Expect the game to go down to the last minute, with Duke winning a close one.
Duke 83, Maryland 79
South No. 1 Michigan State vs. Midwest No. 2 Arizona
Unlike the matchup on the other side of the bracket, Arizona and Michigan State did not face off during the regular season.
The Wildcats have been on a roll of late, with their last loss coming at UCLA on Feb. 15. The 10-game streak includes a 44-point victory at Southern Cal and a win at Stanford to secure a share of the Pac-10 title.
Arizona features a starting five that may be more talented than any other in the country, but will have to face a deep and physical Michigan State team that will push the Wildcats around underneath.
Michigan State has had a relatively easy road to the finals, facing every underdog possible every opponent has been a nine-seed or worse in each of its first four games.
The Spartans have had some unusual heroes so far, as their star forward, Jason Richardson, has struggled with his outside shooting. In the regional final, it was shooting guard Dave Thomas who stepped up with a career-high 19 points.
Michigan State will be able to call on championship experience from two of its blue-collar stars, Andre Hutson and Charlie Bell.
Arizona”s Eugene Edgerson, a member of the 1997 championship squad, is the only Wildcat to play in the Final Four.
Michigan State, which has played stifling defense to this point in the tournament, will need to slow the high-powered backcourt of Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas.
Arizona, which relies on quickness on the perimeter and the shot-blocking of center Loren Woods to defend, will have trouble stopping the Spartans from scoring their customary 20-plus points per game on put-backs.
But in the end, Arizona”s talent will come through because of the cold-shooting of Michigan State”s Bell and Richardson.
Arizona 74, Michigan State 63