Villanova crashes the Final Four

Three of the teams are Final Four regulars, programs that expect to be practising and playing in the first week of April, not attending end-of-season banquets.

North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough

Three of the teams are Final Four regulars, programs that expect to be practising and playing in the first week of April, not attending end-of-season banquets.

Trying to pull a post-season surprise is Villanova, a school that might not have the tradition of North Carolina, Michigan State or Connecticut but does have the biggest shocker in NCAA tournament history on its colourful resume.

Villanova once again will enter the Final Four as an underdog, though hardly the kind it was in 1985, when Rollie Massimino’s team was eighth-seeded and shot 78.6 per cent to knock a growing Georgetown dynasty off its pedestal.

This time, the Wildcats (30-7) are third-seeded, coached by Jay Wright (with Massimino almost certainly watching from the stands) and have a semifinal meeting set for Saturday against North Carolina.

The other semifinal will be between Connecticut and Michigan State, and there’s little doubt who will have home-court advantage in that one. The Final Four is coming to Detroit, and the Spartans (30-6) are playing only 90 miles from home.

A nice ray of sunshine for a state that has suffered more than most over the past year, when it comes to job losses and the recession.

“I’m just hoping we’re a silver lining in what’s been a little bit of a cloudy year for us,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “I’m hoping that we’re the sunshine, I’m hoping we’re something to embrace, be involved with, and I hope they all support us because, you know, I haven’t even had time to think about UConn.”

The last team to play the Final Four in its home state was Duke. The Blue Devils lost to Arkansas in the 1994 title game in Charlotte, N.C.

Villanova is, no big surprise, the long shot among this group of four, listed at 8-1 at the Las Vegas Hilton race and sports book. Carolina is the 5-6 favourite, while UConn is 5-2 and Michigan State is 5-1.

Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Hilton sports book, said he expects big action on Michigan State because of the nationwide popularity of the Big Ten. And he says Villanova can’t exactly be looked at as the lovable underdog it was back in 1985 — or even the next George Mason, the 2006 long shot. Not possible considering the Wildcats come out of the Big East as a No. 3 seed.

“But we’ll see a buildup this week and the Cinderella could be created because they’ll be facing the tournament favourite,” he said.

Carolina (32-4) is an 8-point favourite against ’Nova, while UConn (31-4) is favoured by 4 over Michigan State.

Michigan State’s win over Louisville on Sunday prevented this Final Four from having three teams from the Big East, the way it happened when Villanova won it all in 1985. But there is still a chance of an all-Big East final.

“I’m worried about the next game,” Wright said.

“But if history repeats itself, I’ll take it.”

North Carolina makes its second straight Final Four and will try to make up for an inexplicably bad first half last year. The Tar Heels fell behind 40-12 to Kansas in the semifinals, a blowout so bad that CBS announcer Billy Packer said the game was over.

They rallied to within four but wound up losing. Carolina’s star, Tyler Hansbrough, decided to return for his senior season.

He got what he was looking for — as did the rest of the Tar Heels. They’re heading to their record 18th Final Four, and Ty Lawson is dominating after missing the first game of the tournament with a toe injury.

“It’s a different team,” senior Danny Green said. “It’s a new year, a new day. It’s a new game, and we know what our goals are.”

Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan State are all looking to join Florida as the second team with two championships in the 2000s.

Just Posted

Pine Lake shooter loses conviction appeal

Cory Lavallee sentenced in 2016 to nine years in prison for attempted murder

Police say a woman in the Red Deer area may be in danger

Public’s assistance is urgently requested

Cannabis legalization won’t impact one Red Deer pot clinic

Nothing changes for Compass Cannabis Clinic in Red Deer despite legalization

Cannabis retail store will open later in October in Red Deer

Two cannabis stores coming to downtown Red Deer

Neighbours drop opposition to Red Deer County communications tower

Communication tower to be located in Balmoral Heights

WATCH: Two weeks away from Canadian Finals Rodeo in Red Deer

In just two weeks, Ponoka’s Shayna Weir will compete with the best… Continue reading

PHOTO: Chew On This! campaign draws attention to national poverty

Lunch bags were being handed out in front of The Hub downtown… Continue reading

Wickenheiser, Pegula reflect NHL’s trend toward diversity

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a laugh, Kim Pegula’s competitive nature kicked in… Continue reading

Harry and Meghan bring rain to drought-stricken Outback town

DUBBO, Australia — The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were jokingly thanked… Continue reading

TV Review: A Roseanne Barr-less ‘The Conners’ is a triumph

NEW YORK — Can there be a “Roseanne” without Roseanne? The answer… Continue reading

Canadian manufacturing sales fell 0.4 per cent in August: Statistics Canada

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says manufacturing sales fell 0.4 per cent to… Continue reading

Brian Mulroney joins board of directors of New York-based pot company

NEW YORK — Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is joining the board… Continue reading

Canadians waking up to legalized cannabis: ‘My new dealer is the prime minister’

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Canadians across the country woke up to legalized… Continue reading

B.C. man accused of swimming naked in Toronto shark tank arrested in Thunder Bay

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — Police have arrested a B.C. man who is… Continue reading

Most Read