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Final Four: A Fan's Perspective

North Carolina's Ty Lawson, left, drives up court ahead of Villanova's Scottie Reynolds during a men's NCAA Final Four semifinal college basketball game, Saturday, April 4, 2009, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
If you're a sports fan, you already know that Michigan State beat the University of Connecticut and North Carolina beat Villanova in the NCAA semifinal games. I'm not going to give you endless statistics from the games. I'm going to give you something different: the view from someone who was at the games - a fan's perspective.

Think basketball is just a big man's game? Well, the University of Connecticut had the biggest player of them all, 7-foot-3-inch Hasheem Thabeet, but Michigan State's 6-footer, Kailin Lucas was the high scorer for the victorious Spartans. In the second game, North Carolina's 5-foot-11-inch Ty Lawson was the high scorer as his Tar Heels beat the Villanova Wildcats. So in each contest, the smallest player in the game came up the biggest. Forget about trying to dunk. Just keep practicing your driveway jump shot.

I can't overstate the excitement in Ford Field as 72,000 people got ready to watch Michigan State play the University of Connecticut. It seemed as if 71,000 of them were rooting for Michigan State. As the introductions were made, the respective coaches, Tom Izzo and Jim Calhoun slowly walked to each other like two gunslingers from the old west. And a shootout was about to begin - for one team, at least. They gave each other what looked like insincere smiles and handshakes, and then the game started. In less than 30 seconds, Lucas hit a jump shot and Michigan State had the lead.

During the game, Connecticut's Coach Calhoun kept looking around, astonished. His body language implied that he thought something weird was occurring. Instead, it was just that Michigan State was much better than he - and most "experts" - anticipated.

The most famous MSU player in history, Magic Johnson, was in the stands, and during time-outs he signed autographs and posed for pictures with his electric smile. During the game, I'm sure he was as nervous as the rest of the fans who had to keep worrying that no lead was safe against UCONN.

With a little over a minute left in the game and MSU ahead by five, Spartan Goran Suton undercut Connecticut big man Thabeet and the seven footer crashed to the floor. His head hit the wood making a sickening thud. It took him a while to get up, and when he did, he said he was "OK," but he looked like a boxer who had been knocked down by a hook to the jaw. He was wobbly, and it didn't look like he was sure where he was. His coaches and trainers wisely took him out of the game and let someone else shoot his free throws. Fortunately, his injury was not serious, but it was symbolic: Michigan State made Connecticut wobbly and knocked them out of the tournament.

The arena went crazy. At the press conference, Michigan State's coach and players said they hoped they were helping the people of Detroit - and of Michigan in general-forget their troubles, even if just for a little while. And they certainly seemed to be.


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The second game was an emotional letdown for everyone except North Carolina and their fans. After five minutes of the first half, it was obvious that there was no way North Carolina was going to lose. Villanova might have led the Final Four teams with the most players named Corey - two - but that's about the only category that they led in their semi-final game.

It's not that the Tar Heels played that great. In the second half, they only hit 31 percent of their shots, but Villanova only made 23 percent of theirs.

I witnessed a nice moment of sportsmanship during halftime of the Carolina-Villanova game. The two mascots, hot and exhausted, sat with each other on the floor of a hallway at Ford Field. They removed the heads of their costumes, drank water, and talked about the game. Maybe they were enemies during the game, but they shared a commonality that nobody else in the arena could understand. I suggested to them that they switch costumes for the second half. The Villanova mascot said he'd be tempted if his team kept playing the way they were, but the Carolina ram just shook his head, "no."

So we're down to two teams, one game. North Carolina is favored over Michigan State. They are considered "the class" of the tournament. But as MSU's coach, Tom Izzo said after their semi-final victory, "This is a blue collar team, playing in the blue collar city." Of course, let's not forget that those in Carolina Blue might also have something to do with the outcome of the Championship Game.