Three of the teams are Final Four regulars, programs that expect to be practicing and playing in the first week of April, not attending end-of-season banquets.
Trying to pull a postseason surprise is Villanova, a school that might not have the tradition of North Carolina, Michigan State or Connecticut but does have the biggest shocker in NCAA tournament history on its colorful resume.
Villanova once again will enter the Final Four as an underdog, though hardly the kind it was in 1985, when Rollie Massimino's team was eighth-seeded and shot 78.6 percent to knock a growing Georgetown dynasty off its pedestal.
This time, the Wildcats (30-7) are third-seeded, coached by Jay Wright (with Massimino almost certainly watching from the stands) and have a semifinal meeting set for Saturday in Detroit against North Carolina.
Win or lose, Villanova already has a moment for the ages from this tournament: Scottie Reynolds' end-to-end rush for the winning layup against Pitt on Saturday.
nship,'' Reynolds said. ``And to do it with these guys on my back, and the players that came before us, I think that that contributes to our program.''
Villanova is, no big surprise, the long shot among this group of four, listed at 8-1 at the Las Vegas Hilton race and sports book. Carolina is the 5-6 favorite, while UConn is 5-2 and Michigan State, which is playing 90 miles from home, is 5-1.
But Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Hilton sports book, said Villanova can't exactly be looked at as the lovable underdog it was back in 1985 - or even the next George Mason, the 2006 long shot. Not possible considering the Wildcats come out of the Big East as a No. 3 seed.
``But we'll see a buildup this week and the Cinderella could be created because they'll be facing the tournament favorite,'' he said.
Carolina (32-4) is an 8-point favorite against 'Nova, and the winner will play Monday night for the title against the winner of the Michigan State-Connecticut semifinal. UConn (31-4) is favored by 4.
Michigan State's win over Louisville on Sunday prevented this Final Four from having three teams from the Big East, the way it happened when Villanova won it all in 1985. But there is still a chance of an all-Big East final.
``I'm worried about the next game,'' Wright said. ``But if history repeats itself, I'll take it.''
make up for an inexplicably bad first half last year. The Tar Heels fell behind 40-12 to Kansas in the semifinals, a blowout so bad that CBS announcer Billy Packer said the game was over.
They rallied to within four but wound up losing. Carolina's star, Tyler Hansbrough, decided to return for his senior season.
He got what he was looking for - a return to the Final Four.
Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan State are all looking to join Florida as the second team with two championships in the 2000s.
Connecticut is actually looking for its third title since 1999.
But this has not been an easy trip, or season, for Jim Calhoun's team. The Huskies lost shooting guard Jerome Dyson and his 13 points a game in February, yet still managed to get a top seed in the West Regional.
Calhoun spent time in the hospital when the Huskies were in the first round, battling a bout of dehydration. More recently, the coach has been answering questions about possible recruiting violations.
``I'm as happy as I can possibly be about the basketball situation,'' Calhoun said. ``I'm so proud. I said to the kids, so happy for this group. I mean, I feel like busting out just because I just think they are really special, what they did once they get dealt a real tough blow. It took some bounces, it took some bruises.''
Louisville, had the benefit of low expectations. Not really, though, for a team now making its fifth Final Four trip since coach Tom Izzo took over in 1995.
``Pressure. Pressure is what Michigan State is about,'' guard Travis Walton said. ``You know, coach always tells us about his story, two years into his job, he had pressure to deliver. He delivered.''
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