Today's games

April 02, 2005|By Orlando Sentinel

Illinois (36-1) vs. Louisville (33-4)

Time, TV: 6:07 p.m., chs. 13, 9

How they got here: Illinois won the Chicago Regional as the No. 1 seed. The Illini defeated No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson, 67-55, No. 9 Nevada, 71-59, No. 12 Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 77-63, and No. 3 Arizona, 90-89 (OT). Louisville won the Albuquerque Regional as the No. 4 seed. The Cardinals defeated No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette, 68-62, No. 5 Georgia Tech, 76-54, No. 1 Washington, 93-79, and No. 7 West Virginia, 93-85 (OT).

Tourney tidbit: Louisville is trying to become the first No. 4 seed since Arizona in 1997 to get to the title game. The Wildcats won it all that season.

The buzz: Both teams rely extensively on their perimeter trios: Illinois with Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams; Louisville with Taquan Dean, Francisco Garcia and Larry O'Bannon. The Illini guards are quicker and better ballhandlers; the Louisville guards are more physical and have slightly better range. The quickness advantage could be huge today, on both ends of the court. Look for the Illini guards to try to get into the lane as often as possible offensively; if they can do that consistently, the Illini should win. Defensively, the hope is the quickness will force turnovers and lead to easy transition baskets. Garcia is going to be a matchup problem for Illinois, though, because of his size and range. Illinois will have to crowd him or he'll challenge from three-point range; conversely, he can put the ball on the floor and overpower smaller guards. Louisville's big men are better than their Illini counterparts, and Ellis Myles' passing ability (he's second on Louisville in assists) has been huge in the tournament. Neither team asks for much more than rebounding and defense from its bench, so any offense from the reserves will be important. Expect a game in the 80s, with a plethora of long-range shots and some exciting transition basketball.

Michigan State (26-6) vs. North Carolina (31-4)

Time, TV: 8:47 p.m. approximately, chs. 13, 9

How they got here: Michigan State won the Austin Regional as the No. 5 seed. The Spartans defeated No. 12 Old Dominion, 89-81, No. 13 Vermont, 72-61, No. 1 Duke, 78-68, and No. 2 Kentucky, 94-88, (2 OTs). UNC won the Syracuse Regional as the No. 1 seed. The Tar Heels defeated No. 16 Oakland, 96-68, No. 9 Iowa State, 92-65, No. 5 Villanova, 67-66, and No. 6 Wisconsin, 88-82.

Tourney tidbit: North Carolina hasn't been to the final since 1993, when the Heels beat Michigan to win the title in a game best remembered for Chris Webber calling a timeout he didn't have.

The buzz: North Carolina is the most talented team in the Final Four, with a ton of offensive firepower. In guards Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants and forwards Sean May and Marvin Williams (a reserve), the Heels have four future first-round draft picks. Felton is the key guy: He's a pass-first point guard who also can score, and when he's on the bench, the offense suffers. He'll have a huge quickness advantage over any Michigan State guard. May has been a load in the low post the second half of the season; it's hard to move him out of the paint once he has established position. McCants has great range, and when he is on, he's dangerous. That said, the Heels don't always bear down on defense, and they've committed more turnovers than any other team at the Final Four (they also have more assists, too). It's vital that Michigan State center Paul Davis play well on both ends of the court; he's the Spartans' only low-post threat offensively, and if he is shut down, they won't win. Michigan State has six guys who are three-point threats, but Maurice Ager is the only Spartan who is truly dangerous from long range. Freshman point guard Drew Neitzel has withstood tournament pressure so far, and that must continue. UNC is athletic, but Michigan State has even more athletes. Guys such as Ager, Shannon Brown and Kelvin Torbert need to put that athleticism to good use. Michigan State is excellent from the free-throw line.

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