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Bracket: Huskies; Heart: Spartans

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Michael Hunt
March 30, 2009

If you’re asking, it’s still Connecticut.


The Huskies were my pick to win it all two weeks ago when the bracket was courageously set in pencil, so it wouldn’t be the honorable thing to come in with a changeup now. Plus, you’d like to bank some goodwill with Jim Calhoun, just in case the need to ask about his salary arises somewhere down the line.


The heart, though, is solidly with Michigan State.


Either way, count the 2009 Final Four as an extraordinarily satisfying event for our little piece of the college hoops world that has a vested interest in three of the four contestants.


We care about Connecticut and Villanova because they had no objection several years ago to Marquette’s association stretching the credibility of the Big East, at least from a geographical point of view. And we’re really grateful to the Big East for the regular opportunity at the Bradley Center to see the highest quality college basketball available without a prescription.


But, of course, we care more about the Big Ten. This is Big Ten country and has been for 113 years. If the continent shifts by 2118 to the point that Milwaukee and Pittsburgh are twin cities in a neighborly sense, maybe the Big East will have the same kind of emotional pull that causes grown men to weep from Minneapolis to Iowa City whenever Floyd of Rosedale is mentioned.


So until then, go Spartans, even if you trash the last remaining piece of dignity on my bracket.


At least this terrible conflict will be decided Saturday, after which the Connecticut-Michigan State winner can fill its time until Monday by sharpening the net-cutting scissors.


And then, one of them—counting on Connecticut, hoping for Michigan State -- will join college basketball’s inner circle with the Select Six.


The usual suspects—UCLA (11 titles), Kentucky (seven), Indiana (five), North Carolina (four) and Kansas and Duke with three each—are the only Division I schools with three or more national championships. Connecticut and Michigan State are among eight with two.


The thought of the Spartans crossing that divide is pleasing on several levels. For one, it’s 90 miles from the Breslin Center to Ford Field, site of the Final Four. Depending on the backup where I-96, I-696, I-275 and 10 Mile Road come together, lots of Spartys will make that drive in less than two hours to put a lot of green in those 80,000 seats.


And if any American city needs that kind of civic lift right about now, it would be Detroit, bless its battered soul.


For another, Big Ten basketball, for all the grief it has taken lately, has finished as the runner-up three times since 2002. It could be time for someone to close the deal as in 2000, when Michigan State became the last Big Ten school to win the national championship. That was the Mateen Cleaves-Mo Peterson-Charlie Bell Flintstones who dropped a boulder on Wisconsin in the Final Four, which managed to survive as an event despite the aesthetic damage caused that year by the Badgers.


More immediate, Michigan State greatly distinguished itself Sunday by completely throwing the overall top-seeded team off its game. That would’ve been Louisville of the Big East, whose honor is being upheld by a Villanova outfit that somehow took down brother Pitt; and Connecticut, the team that will win it all with the best combination of size and speed left in the tournament.


At least that’s what the head is saying. The heart, though, has a little bit of green running through it this week.



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