There isn’t much that needs to be said about the games on Saturday. Given what happened last weekend, and given the potential for Monday’s game, this Saturday will be forgotten before too long.
I never really got into the Illinois/Louisville game. For a reason I can’t explain, I thought the game would not be all that tight. I decided to save my "watching energy" for the second game, which I thought would be close. As the Illini were putting away the Cards in the second half, I couldn’t help but think how this kind of dominating performance might make Illinois a favorite against UNC, when the (betting) public consensus for a while has been that UNC was slightly better.
Then UNC put up the kind of dominating half against Michigan State that folks were used to seeing from them in January. UNC is getting a lot of praise for another impressive offensive display, but this really misses the point.
Yeah, the Tar Heels were awesome offensively, but Michigan State shot 34% for the game, easily a season-low for the Spartans. UNC’s defensive reputation won’t get any better, but the D was equally important in their winning formula tonight. And airtight defense was a big factor in how they strung blowout after blowout in January. Even at halftime, with MSU up 5, the Spartans took 41 possessions to score 38 points. I’m not suggesting you should value this game over the awful Wisconsin performance, but just know that it’s possible for Carolina to D up as well as any team in the nation.
So now we have #1 vs. #2. I don’t know where this ranks on the list of most anticipated final games, but outside of the ’79 game, I can’t think of one that would rank higher. The game in ’79 didn’t live up to the hype, hopefully this one does.
On a related note, is it wrong for me to feel bitterness towards Matt Sylvester? You know, the guy who hit the game winner to hand Illinois its only loss. Consider the hype for a game where Illinois has a chance to be the first unbeaten in 29 years, and the best player on the opposing team is the son of the MVP of the last unbeaten. As it is, an Illinois win would cap the best season since ’76 Indiana, and would also set a record for most wins in a season.
I’m not going to do any kind of preview or pre-game analysis of the final game. For one, I don’t have the time to do it justice. But also, I don’t think I could find anything useful to add to the mountains of stuff that will be generated in the next 36 hours. We all thought these were the two best teams since sometime in January. UNC has more talent, but Illinois seems to have more purpose. If UNC wants it as bad as Illinois, then they probably win. But that’s a hard level to reach.
These are the best teams, settling it on the court. For all the talk about how the NCAA basketball tournament is superior to the BCS, this never happens. So enjoy it.