The Final Four

It’s not unusual for prognostications about the next Final Four to begin at almost the same moment as the last cord of net is being cut down by the current winners. Predictions about next years Final Four continue throughout the summer and heat up as the new season opens. When the regular season ends and League Championship tournaments begin, talk about the Final Four may take a brief hiatus as fans cheer their favorites on to the small scale glory to be found in league competition. But always not too far from the thoughts of the avid fans are those two words, Final Four. How will a victory in a league championship help to position a team for a better seed, an easier first round, a better geographic placement. League Championships are nice but it really is all about the big dance and the Final Four.

This year is no exception. Who do you expect to show up in Indianapolis on Apr. 3? If you step back from your own favorites for a moment the basic math of this years’ picks may suggest an interesting scenario. For the first year in recent memory there lurks the chance that this season’s match ups could actually produce an all Big East Final Four.

Noticeably the Big East begins the tournament with a clear mathematical advantage over every other league. With a monstrous 8 total selections, placement of two teams in each regional bracket and garnering two number one seeds, the Big East can look optimistically toward winning slots in the Final Four – maybe all four.

Perhaps the most difficult regional title to claim will be the South Region. The question here really is which Duke team will appear for the tourney – the one that won thirty games or the one that lost three. Looked at another way is there really another team that can grab this year’s regional title from the tandem of Coach K and J.J. More than perhaps any other team in college basketball today Duke goes into every game as if its players were all targeted. Everyone wants to beat Duke and seems to play at full throttle when they meet Duke. The result is Duke has few easy games but also Duke gets a lot of practice playing under pressure. When they get to the playoffs they are both battle tested and battle ready. Still this year Duke has shown some vulnerability stumbling a bit toward the end of the season and barely holding off a determined Boston College team in the ACC championship. In the South Regional, Duke could conceivably fall to one of two Big East opponent on the way to the Final Four. Syracuse may not have the season numbers that Duke has but they still marched victoriously through four games in four days against four tough teams and won the Big East tournament. That says something about the level at which Syracuse is currently playing. A second Big East competitor to possibly encounter Duke in this division is West Virginia. The Mountaineers did not deliver on the promise of their early season performance but they are an experienced club with good shooting, good chemistry and some heady coaching. West Virginia showed last year they are not intimidated by big competition and would surely relish a Final Four appearance.

Though few would bet on it there is the chance that Duke could have worn themselves out during Championship Week. If a less than ready Duke finds themselves in a first round dogfight with George Washington, a team with a great record and something to prove, Duke might even exit early opening the door just enough to let a Big East team through to the Final Four.

In the East Region UConn and Seton Hall from the Big East will compete with 14 other teams for a trip to the Final Four. Few sports junkies are jumping on the Seton Hall band wagon as a strong contender but most do expect Connecticut to go the distance . Certainly North Carolina, Michigan State and Tennessee are expected to provide solid competition in this region. Still Connecticut is so big, so deep, so athletic, so well coached that despite their surprising slip in the Big East Tournament Connecticut is the easy pick in this region to go on to the Final Four.

In the West Region two feisty Big East competitors will scratch and scramble with anyone for 40 minutes in their efforts to get to the Final Four. Though rated below below Memphis, Gonzaga, UCLA and Kansas, Marquette and Pitt have spent the season battling and winning in the Big East with convincing victories over UConn, Georgetown and Villanova. Both teams are used to stiff competition and both have a legitimate chance at going the distance. With two shots at the regional title the Big East again has strong odds at pulling out a trip to the Final Four out of this Regional competition

Looking at the Midwest we find Villanova from , you guessed it, the Big East firmly ensconced as the number 1 seed. A squad that flirted all year with a number one national rating disappointed themselves and their fans by a less than thorough domination of the Big East tournament. But in the bigger field of the NCAA tournament Villanova is likely to encounter teams unfamiliar with and unready to defend against the unique four guard offense which Villanova deploys. Nova has four excellent three point shooters and who are also talented ball handlers, young men that can make the last three minutes of play in a close game a real adventure. If Villanova can’t get by Boston College perhaps the slack will be picked up by a well disciplined, crisp passing, tempo controlling, back door converting Georgetown team who will be only too glad to represent the Big East in the Final Four. Coached by John Thompson III the Hoyas come packing not only proficiency around the hoop but lots and lots of winning tradition.

Certainly a lot of things would have to go right for the Big East to totally monopolize the Final Four, but it is far from impossible . With Villanova and Connecticut already named the number 1 seeds in their respective regions the math says the Big East is already half way to a sweep of the Final Four slots. Could this year’s Final Four end up being simply a second Big East Tournament? Could be . But for sure we are about to find out how Big the Big East really is.

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