Friday, March 25, 2005

Saturday Final Eight Preview

From the youhearditherefirst category comes The Monk's semi-useful preview of tomorrow's Final Eight games, Louisville-West Virginia and Arizona-Illinois.

First, Louisville/WVU: The Cards have been one of the most impressive teams in the Tourney after slipping past Louisiana-Lafayette in the first round. WVU has been pure grit-and-guts in claiming a last-second win over Creighton, a double-OT comeback win against Wake and outscrapping Texas Tech. This game is where WVU's miracle run ends, just as previous Cinderellas have fallen -- Rhode Island 1998, Gonzaga 1999, Temple 2001, Kent State and Missouri 2002, Alabama 2004. Remember, when Wisconsin and UNC wandered into the 2000 Final Four as #8 seeds, they both had Final Eight games against similar mid-seeded teams, Purdue and Tulsa (Bill Self's first of three Final Eight losses). Louisville isn't a mid-seed, it's an underrated high seed (as its whippings of Ga. Tech and Washington showed). Expect Pitino to make history by becoming the first coach to lead three programs into the Final Four (Providence '87, Kentucky '93, '96, '97).

Now the big one on Saturday, Arizona/Illinois. This is one of Lute Olson's on years. He's had off-years where Zona has been an early upset victim ('92, '93, '95, '99 = first-round stinker quadruple -- check out those tourneys, Arizona is the only school to lose to each of a #12, #13, #14, and #15; second-round flops in '90, '00) and he's had on-years when Zona has exceeded expectations ('98 and '01 most notably) and a couple of years when Zona has met its lofty notions ('88 and '94 Final Four teams). This team has talent and, unlike last year's squad, intestinal fortitude. Illinois has been remarkably unimpressive throughout the tournament. The Illini are one of the few teams that can match Arizona's perimeter ability. The question is whether the Zonans can pound the relatively soft Illini frontcourt. Quite honestly, the main reason to like Illinois is that the game is in Chicago -- there is no #1 seed I remember that has won three games against outmatched opponents as unconvincingly as the Illini, by 12, 12 and 14 against the #16, #9 and #12 seeds = yuck. Take this game out of Shytown, and I'd take the points and Zona quite happily. Even in Chicago, I think Arizona is a good bet to do unto the Illini what Ok. State did to St. Joe's last year in New Jersey: take out an underwhelming one-loss team near its own backyard.

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