You learn quickly in this business that it never really pays to make predictions. You can’t help but look bad because so rarely do the games go the way you think they will.
It happens so often that many sports writers and columnists completely shy away from putting in print what they think will transpire.
But where’s the fun in that?
I’m the guy who tries to pick the winner of every golf major on the eve of the final round. And I’m often wrong, so take these with the necessary grains of salt. But when I get the Trevor Immelman pick right, it feels good.
Even after those glowing credentials and fair warnings, I still press on. So here are my picks for the Final Four, as well as the eventual champion.
Michigan State vs. UConn
It’s a relative home game for the Spartans, whose campus is just 92 miles from Ford Field. And with Tom Izzo captaining them, they seem like such a solid upset pick.
Michigan State has a chance to be a bad matchup for UConn, what with 6-foot-10 forward Goran Suton capable of stepping behind the 3-point arc and drilling home jumpers. Maybe that brings 7-3 Huskies center Hasheem Thabeet out on the perimeter and opens driving lanes inside for point guard Kalin Lucas, but it’s more likely that UConn coach Jim Calhoun will put Jeff Adrien on Suton and allow Thabeet to roam and block shots from the weak side.
I’ve always liked Michigan State’s ruggedness, but I think that only goes so far. In 12 years, Izzo has lost to a lower seed in the tournament only once. So while he gets the most out of his teams getting to the Final Four, his clubs are just 1-3 once they get there. UConn has too much talent and added ruggedness to spare, and so the Huskies are the pick.
Villanova vs. North Carolina
No team has overwhelmed its tournament opponents like the Tar Heels, except for maybe UConn. And no team has gotten better point guard play in the tournament than the Heels, with Ty Lawson racking up 20 assists to just two turnovers in three games.
And while Gonzaga and LSU had good point guards who could’ve neutralized Lawson, it still wasn’t close. But Nova might, with Scottie Reynolds leading the charge and the ability to go small with three or even four guards on the floor.
When you break down the stats of these two teams, they come out very similar. The Wildcats, despite being known as a lockdown defensive team, are averaging more than 80 points per game, and their rebounding numbers are strikingly similar to the Heels’ as well.
Nova does struggle shooting the 3-pointer, making only 29.6 percent of them during the tournament, and UNC is more than willing to give up that shot in favor of double-teaming down low.
And Tyler Hansbrough has been to the foul line more than anybody in NCAA history. He’s the darling of the college game. It would not be surprising for Hansbrough to quickly get Nova’s one true big man, Dante Cunningham, in foul trouble early. And the floodgates could open then.
But here’s the big thing about the Heels — they won’t be caught with the deer-in-headlights look again this year. Nova might. Hansbrough even mentioned that very thing this week, saying that UNC was basically unprepared for the Final Four last season. With essentially five starters back, that won’t happen again. I think experience, plus the talent, will prevail.
UConn vs. North Carolina
A flat-out war, I think.
And one that is terribly difficult to predict.
Throughout the season, teams have struggled defending UNC not just because of Lawson’s ability to break down a defense, but also because the Heels have two bigs who can score. Opponents generally can defend one big man, but rarely two, like both Hansbrough and Deon Thompson.
UConn, though, can do that, which would make things tough for the Heels.
But when North Carolina won it all in 2005, it won because it had the most talent. In other words, more NBA-ready players. UConn has a few NBA types, like Thabeet, Adrien, A.J. Price and maybe Kemba Walker.
But UNC has more, with Hansbrough (at least as a reserve at the next level), Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Ed Davis and probably even Thompson.
UConn is scary good, but even when the Heels are off, they’re still tough to beat. Their four losses came by a combined 16 points.
It’ll be tight, but UNC gets a late 9-2 run to win it.
UNC 85, UConn 81
Whether that turns out to be prophecy like Mr. Immelman, or insanity like Greg Norman, we’ll know in a few hours.