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UConn, Michigan State, UNC, Villanova last four standing

Two No. 1 seeds, a No. 2 and a No. 3 fight for title

Magic Johnson (left) congratulates Michigan State coach Tom Izzo after the Spartans beat Louisville on Sunday to advance to the Final Four.

Magic Johnson (left) congratulates Michigan State coach Tom Izzo after the Spartans beat Louisville on Sunday to advance to the Final Four.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The end result of the most anticipated duel since Zorro? Blake Griffin won the battle, and Tyler Hansbrough won the war.

And now that the NCAA Tournament’s answer to Ali vs. Frazier is over, can we talk about the Final Four?

Now we know who’s who, and the big headline is only two teams will be in Detroit from the Not-Quite-So-Big East.

First No. 1 seed Connecticut, then No. 3 seed Villanova. But not No. 1 seed Louisville, the Cardinals having been run over by a cement truck with No. 2 seed Michigan State plates. For the 13th time in 14 years, the No. 1 ranked team will not be national champions.

Meanwhile, No. 1 seed North Carolina rounds out the field after a win over Oklahoma, the Tar Heels acting as if they knew exactly where they were going.

Which, of course, they do.

They won Sunday 72-60, and think how bad it would have been had Hansbrough been in the lineup.

Never mind, he was. Obviously his only mission Sunday was to win – individual statistics, optional.

So high noon never came. The 1-on-1 showdown was an Oklahoma romp, Griffin outscoring Hansbrough 23-8 and outrebounding him 16-6.

But Hansbrough is the one going to Detroit.

Maybe this will help explain. Hansbrough had more assists than he had baskets. He was just one of the Heels.

So where does all this leave the Final Four?

Good luck deciding on a pecking order.

Connecticut is the most physically imposing Final Four entrant, with a front line that reminds you of the Hartford skyline.

“The most powerful team in college basketball,” Rick Pitino called the Huskies Sunday in Indianapolis.

But then Villanova has cut a swath through royalty – taking out UCLA, Duke and No. 1 seed Pittsburgh consecutively.

Michigan State has bumped off Pac-10 tournament champion USC, defending national champion Kansas and top-ranked Louisville.

Call them underdogs if you wish. Pittsburgh and Louisville won’t.

There will be powerful motivations afoot in Ford Field.

Connecticut must prove it can spend another week ignoring questions about the recruiting allegations heaped upon the program. Plus, the Huskies have to keep pace with the UConn women.

Villanova feels the wind of the past at its back, 24 years after the Wildcats stormed to a famous national championship.

Michigan State carries a chip on its shoulder the size of an SUV, having heard unkind things all winter about the Big Ten, and those in it.

Plus, this will nearly be a home event for the Spartans, and maybe that can be a boost to a state ravaged by the bad economy.

“I’m hoping,” coach Tom Izzo said in Indianapolis on Sunday, “that we’re the sunshine.”

Then there’s North Carolina.

This is what the Tar Heels had in mind when they all returned to Chapel Hill like the swallows to Capistrano. Coach Roy Williams has taken great pains to explain there were other motives apart from a national title.

But had they missed the Final Four, could he ever have convinced the world that the Tar Heels were not crushed, and he with them? No.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Williams said Sunday.

His team’s pretty good, too.

Let’s just make one stop in Sunday’s game, which never came closer to matching the drama of its hype.

Second half, 8:33 to go.

Griffin has 21 points. Hansbrough has four.

Griffin has 14 rebounds. Hansbrough has three.

North Carolina leads 59-40.

Curious thing. The more Griffin outscored Hansbrough, the wider North Carolina’s lead grew.

Griffin’s production inside was not the Oklahoma problem. But the Sooners could have used the area beyond the 3-point arc as a parking lot, for all they scored from there. Try 2-for-19, the first shot not going through until five minutes were left, after 15 misses.

After Ty Lawson scored 19 and Danny Green 18, the message seemed clear enough from North Carolina. There are lots of ways to win, and many Tar Heels to do it.

“They’re as good as advertised,” Oklahoma’s Taylor Griffin said.

Which is why what was true in November seems true in April.

Until someone proves differently, North Carolina is favored.



Detroit – Saturday (CBS)

Michigan State (30-6) vs. Connecticut (31-4), 3:07 p.m.

Villanova (30-7) vs. North Carolina (32-4), 5:47 p.m.

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