The last two recipients of Final Four berths will be known Sunday afternoon. There is a Cinderella vs. a Champ, and a rubber match showdown from the top two seeds in the Midwest region (seeds are in parentheses):
Michigan State (1) vs. Temple (11)
For the fifth straight year, a team seeded eighth or lower is in the Elite Eight. Can the Owls match the '86 LSU team as the lowest seeded team to make the Final Four?
John Chaney is in the Elite Eight for the fifth time. His team went in 1988, '91, '93 and '99 and failed to make the Final Four all four times. He has gotten the most out of his Owls this year.This club basically uses seven players. The backcourt tandem of Lynn Greer and Quincy Wadley has been fantastic.
There are two constants when looking at Temple. First, they do a great job protecting the basketball and minimizing turnovers. Second, they defend exceptionally well in the match-up zone. Now they are getting a third area, the offensive scheme.
The Owls were brilliant against Penn State. Greer and Wadley put on show a from the perimeter. Alex Westby has been quietly effective as a threat from outside and when penetrating. Michigan State will have to contain the penetration ability of Greer.
For Chaney to make the Final Four, he will have to get a maximum effort against the top-seeded Spartans. Michigan State dominated Gonzaga with their interior game. The physical presence on the glass has been obvious all season, and a +20 rebound edge against the Zags was a big factor. Andre Hutson and Charlie Bell showed veteran leadership and came up big, as Zach Randolph contributed on the interior.
The question now is, does Michigan State have enough threats to attack the Temple zone defense? Bell shot well against Gonzaga; now he will be challenged by the Owls.
Will Michigan State make it to their third straight Final Four? This is a stern test for the defending national champions.
Illinois (1) vs. Arizona (2)
This will be a heavyweight showdown, round three of the season. Arizona won the first one in Maui, and Illinois won the second in Chicago. The rubber match is for all the marbles, baby! The Final Four is on the line and this should be a real war.
Illinois has great depth and showed it against Kansas. Bill Self's team had big-time foul trouble, yet weathered the storm.
Arizona has been getting more aggressive play from Loren Woods. After a slow start, he had 12 points and seven boards in the second half against a pesky Ole Miss team. The Wildcat's physical frontline, with Woods, Michael Wright and Richard Jefferson can be very active.
The backcourt showdowns will be exciting. Frank Williams and Cory Bradford match up against Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner. Arizona has to contain Williams, who made every big play against the Jayhawks. Bradford struggled from the perimeter against Kansas. He will have to step up and shoot better against the Wildcats.
If Illinois can get great bench play from the likes of Lucas Johnson--who was brilliant against Kansas --this should be a great game. Arizona cannot afford to go 0-for-8 from the trifecta line as they did against the Rebels.
This one is a real toss-up. I like Arizona in a real "white-knuckler", to steal a phrase from my old buddy Al McGuire.