Today the final two teams punch their tickets for Dallas and the Final Four. Could it be a banner day for the state of Michigan and the Big Ten, or will two normally reliable programs who have had to shake off rust this year make it back to the Big Dance’s main ballroom?
Here are the locations, their announcing teams and some commentary for both of Sunday’s regional final games. All times are Central, both games will be broadcast on CBS:
East Regional, At Madison Square Garden, New York
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, Allie LaForce
1:20 p.m.: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 7 Connecticut
— UConn coach Kevin Ollie said Friday after his team’s latest upset over Iowa State that there was no better place to plant seeds than a Garden, Madison Square Garden that is, the site of so many great moments in his program’s history.
Friday showed that those moments can exist again under the young coach and former Jim Calhoun understudy. Regardless of their results today, the future of UConn basketball once again looks promising in spite of recent NCAA investigations and it being in the American Athletic Conference, which we now know wasn’t just a cruel joke played on fans of college sports.
Actually, the AAC has done well in this tournament and the Huskies are the chief reason why, but the Big Ten has done better, on the verge of three teams making the Final Four after Wisconsin clinched a spot yesterday. Michigan State will make it two. This has to be said in spite of the very inspired play all around by UConn, who has stars (Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels) to match Sparty’s top players, but you have to feel that MSU is a little better and more importantly a little deeper.
Who will have the players further down in their starting lineup or off the bench to make plays that separate their team from the opponent? I like State’s Brandon Dawson to have a big impact in game and State’s size advantages in almost all positions will lead to a signature ruff, rugged and raw win over a UConn program that may need just a little more seasoning before it returns back to the Final Four.
Midwest Regional, At Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, Tracy Wolfson
4:05 p.m.: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 8 Kentucky
— Listen to Michigan’s Jordan Morgan after his team’s razor thin win over Tennessee in the last round and you see a young man representing a team that feels confident in the way it is playing right now, on down to Morgan himself with his questionable drawn charge that helped decide the game Friday.
Morgan may have gotten away with one, but that can be all you need to bust out of that “I think we’re going to do well in the tournament” thinking to “yeah, this is our time” thinking. Michigan has that, but so does Kentucky, and they have it just cause they’re now playing their best basketball and they’ve only beat a 35-0 team and the defending National Champions in back-to-back efforts.
I’d love to see three Big Ten schools in the Final Four, but Kentucky is the way to go in this one, even with Willie Cauley-Stein doubtful for today’s game. In Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson Kentucky still has a front court that will allow it to get easy points at crucial moments of the game. Meanwhile, the Wolverines, though they have a strong front as well, will more likely try to shoot their way to victory via the 3-pointer.
Michigan has shot a fantastic 32 of 65 in the tournament from long range but they’ll have to shoot over a rangy, energetic group of Wildcats and I don’t think enough shots will fall for the Wolverines. Kentucky played itself into the Elite 8 more than any other team left and its clear momentum will carry it back to a place it knows as well as any program — Semifinal Saturday.
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