Sunday, March 29, 2009

Monday Morning Shootaround: And the Final Four is set

The Final Four is all set. Next Saturday, Michigan State will play UConn while Villanova will be taking on UNC. Great match-ups, as we get four of the best programs in recent history traveling to Ford Field (where, of course, yours truly will be in attendance).

But previewing the Final Four is for another day. Let's take a look at what happened last night.

Michigan State 64, Louisville 52: This game started out how most expected it too - a defensive dogfight, with two heavy weights trading punches for 25 minutes. But the Spartans got the knock out blow.

Trailing 34-32 with 15:37 left in the game, the Michigan State defense turned up their intensity. Having already frustrated the Cardinals for 25 minutes, MSU made it near impossible for Louisville to score the rest of the way. They went on a number of runs, and outscored Louisville 32-13 over a 12 minute stretch, sending the Spartans to the Final Four.

Durrell Summers, a Detroit native, soars in for a dunk against Louisville.
(photo credit: Darron Cummings/AP)

It was what Tom Izzo wanted to do. Michigan State was not going to win a game that was a track meet. As good as the Spartans are, they simply do not have the athletes to run with the Cardinals. Their tough, harassing man-to-man defense held the Cards to just eight field goals in the second half, one of which came with 15 seconds left in a game that was already decided.

The biggest issue for the Cardinals was not offensively, however. No one is trying to claim the Cardinals as an offensive juggernaut. Their issue was that MSU was not struggling against the press and Louisville was not getting any easy buckets. The Spartans had just 12 turnovers on the game.

The problem was two fold. Louisville's press was ineffective, which meant that they weren't getting any easy baskets. Since they weren't scoring, they weren't able to get into their press. The Spartans were able to control the pace that the game was played at, which is why they won.

Michigan State got 19 points (17 in the first half to carry them), 10 boards, and 4 assists from Goran Suton. Durrell Summers added 12 points (10 in the second half) and Kalin Lucas chipped in 10 points and 5 assists. Earl Clark scored 19 points for the Cardinals, but they got just 5 points, 6 boards, and 4 assists from Terrence Williams.

UNC 72, Oklahoma 60: Blake Griffin scored 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, besting Tyler Hansbrough's 8 points and 6 boards.

On the stat sheet, Griffin won this one outright.

Too bad the stat sheet doesn't count for jack. Hansbrough's Tar Heels used a total team effort as they ran away from the Sooners early. UNC jumped out to a 13-2 lead, and never looked back. The Sooners were able to get it to five midway through the first half, but UNC responded by scoring six straight points, and was never really threatened the rest of the way.

The battle between players of the year never really lived up to expectations.
(photo credit: NY Daily News)

As I said, it was a total team effort. UNC got 19 points from Ty Lawson and 18 from Danny Green, but more importantly every Heel on the floor was hitting big shots. After struggling through a first half in which neither team could really get into a flow offensively, the Heels turned it on early in the second half. They hit their first seven shots from the floor, and looked unstoppable scoring the ball, as they opened up a 61-40 lead with 8 minutes to play. Willie Warren would get hot, scoring 14 points in the last 8 minutes to make the score respectable, but have no doubt, the Heels were the dominant team on this day.

The scary part of this performance wasn't UNC offensively. Every knows they can score. It was their defense, which completely suffocated what was a good Oklahoma team. They were able to slow Griffin down early, building a double digit lead (he didn't score until there were 11 minutes gone) all the while keeping Tony Crocker, Austin Johnson, and Warren from getting going. Granted, a lot of that was a result of the Sooners missing some open looks, but watching the game, UNC had people running at shooters quite often.

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