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Final Four Is Set

Gee, we're betting that you didn't have this Final Four picked out in your
bracket. UNC, Florida, Wisconsin - only Michigan State seemed set to
advance. By ordinary standards, one could have picked any other three teams out of a hat and done as well.

This Final Four, though, is very intriguing. On the one hand you have the
Spartans, a team which was up and down but which seems in championship form
playing outrageously well at times, and consistently coming from behind, like champions,
then the other three, lesser seeds.

Hustling in from the West is Wisconsin, where the Badgers took Fresno,
Arizona, LSU, and Purdue. How did they knock off such powerful teams? Well it's
elementary, dear friend: defense, defense, and defense. Time was you said Bennett and you thought of a singer; now you say
Bennett and you think of
leveling defense. It's not just that they move their feet and do the
bottom half - their hands are very intelligent, and they get them in at the
right times. They are legitimate and a
looming threat to Michigan State's title hopes: they played them to within 5 at
Michigan State, and lost to them 3 times. Last loss otherwise: February 2nd.

Carolina rides in from the South after what amounts to a Lazarus act, because
in February, everyone had given up on this team. They were a disjointed and
dispirited bunch,
and a lot of people had written Bill Guthridge's retirement speech, a bit
prematurely, as it turns out. Though he took a tremendous amount of heat
for UNC's early woes,
realistically, will he get any of the credit for their startling
turnaround? Or credit for Haywood's improvement? Or for turning Julius
Peppers into a guy who could be a tremendous
offensive force - right off of football season? We'd like to think so, but
somehow we doubt it. Gut will be tolerated, most likely, but a lot of UNC
"fans" will still be cruel and
lambaste him with ugly nicknames like "Grandpa," and call him senile,
as some posters did online, which is unintentionally cruel, as we now know his
mother had Alzheimers,
in our judgment one of the most difficult diseases we know about. Somehow this
team turned on a dime, and has played their way into The Final Four, and though
a lot of
negativity surrounded their season, they managed to get through it.
Brendan Haywood at one point said forget the fans, we don't need them, and since
a lot of people gave up,
Art Chansky among them, we take his point. We don't like UNC, obviously,
but what they've done is very impressive: From Turmoil to Title contention. Not
bad, Coach Gut.

Gator Fever is sweeping Florida, at least for those who can get their
noses out of spring football reports. Here's how big it is: Steve
Spurrrier tried to move practice indoors,
only to be told that the basketball team couldn't be disturbed. Now that's

Florida, despite having a major jerk in NC native Kenyon Weaks, is a
legitimate team, and in 34 year old Billy Donovan, they have a rising star equal
to Amaker. They'll probably
lose to UNC - in fact we expect they'll have their heads handed to them - but
that doesn't negate what they have accomplished in a very short period of time.
Under Donovan the
offense is pretty good, and the defense is excellent. A lot of times
pressing teams don't manage offense very well, particularly in tournament
time. Aside from Georgetown and the
Razorbacks, teams which press relentessly, as far as we can remember, usually
fall out by the Final 8 and don't do well in the Final Four. We're not
saying that Florida can't get
it done, but UNC usually eats that kind of team for lunch. This is not a
typical UNC team - usually they kill in the season and die in the post-season,
not vice-versa, but they've been
damned good in the tournament and we don't think the Gators are mature enough to
solve that kind of intellectual puzzle. We could be wrong, but UNC seems somehow
to have
adapted to this group's limitations and is thriving when it counts. And
while we aren't fans, we are happy for Guthridge, who, we believe, is a
genuinely nice man.

The Badgers - now there is a well-named team. That's what they do, they
badger other people into submission. What a lot of people miss is that while
they bore you on offense,
hard picks, screens and passes wear defenses out. Wisconsin forces
you to play very hard on defense and then compounds your fatigue by dogging you
on the other end. And
it's not like you get a break by running down for a fast dunk: in 3 games, MSU
only averaged 58.3 ppg against Wisconsin. It's not a 90's kind of a team, but
they are tough and
so hard to get past.

Still, since MSU beat them 3 times, and since they know exactly what to
expect, we think MSU will win. It's hard to see a repeat of what Villanova did,
when they came in and
upset mighty Georgetown, playing an almost perfect game. Michigan State is not
Georgetown, but it's still tough to win 4 times against a conference opponent.
It's tough for anyone, but
come tournament time, a lot of things are possible. It's amazing really at the
names knocked out - Duke, of course, but Arizona, Stanford, UCLA, Kansas,
Maryland, Cincinnati, and
Kansas. Coach K said that an Eight seed could easily win this tournament,
and looks like he was right, as UNC is an eight seed and so is Wisconsin. But
nonetheless, to us it still
seems certain that Michigan State will face UNC for the championship, and while
UNC has been brilliant, MSU is the class of the tourney and should prevail next