Final Four Preview
After a wild ride that was the college basketball season, only four teams remain alive in the quest to cut down the nets. We have a team on a revenge tour in Virginia, the top two defensive teams in the country in UVA and Texas Tech, a veteran team coming off of their biggest win of the year in Michigan State and arguably the hottest team left in Auburn. The Final Four is here, and here’s the breakdown.
#2 Michigan State vs. #3 Texas Tech
The Spartans had cruised their way into the Elite Eight to meet Duke in what turned out to be maybe the best game of the tournament. Cassius Winston continues to garner national recognition as the best player on this team who can beat you in a variety of ways.
This team is loaded with experience and players who know their roles which provide some matchup issues for the opposition. Nick Ward, Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman provide size and strength in the paint that can be matched by few teams in the country and quite honestly none that remain in the tournament. MSU also has Matt McQuaid who is a great perimeter defender and three-point shooter, but can also make plays off the dribble.
Due to all of the different skillsets this team has between its players, its no surprise that they are in Minnesota for the Final Four. Tom Izzo has proven to like to work on favorable matchups this tournament and he’ll likely continue to do the same in this game against Texas Tech.
Chris Beard has won the Coach of the Year award, and rightly so. He helped dethrone Kansas in the Big 12 and has now led his team all the way into the Final Four. The Red Raiders are coming off of a good win over Gonzaga in which they held the highest scoring team in the country under 70 points. Add that to wins over Michigan and Buffalo, and this team has had one hell of a run to this point.
It’s no secret that this is a team built primarily off of defense. Statistically, they are the second-best defensive team in the nation, behind only Virginia, and there are playing another team that will force their best on both ends of the court.
Texas Tech has already proven on multiple occasions that defensive has outlasted the premier offenses this tournament, we’ll see if once again they can prevail.
Key to the Game
The game will likely be decided by how Texas Tech deals with the size and strength of Michigan State and their bigs. Will they be able to win the rebounding battle where second chance points could be pivotal? Will they double the post and be able to recover to defend the deep ball? Or will Texas Tech try something different and lose their momentum because of trying to do too much? Only time will tell how this Final Four matchup will play out.
#1 Virginia vs. #5 Auburn
The only #1 seed left in the field, and for the sake of the storyline, they should be. Coming off of the worst loss in NCAA history a year ago, vengeance is on the mind of Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers and in order to complete their redemption, they will need to move past the streaking Auburn Tigers.
Virginia is coming off of one of the better games in the tournament in which they survived the onslaught of Carsen Edwards thanks to a buzzer-beating jump shot from Mamadi Diakite. The unlikely hero, but the hero they needed. A level of team defense and half-court set efficiency that is unmatched in the world of college basketball, you would think that this team should never lose a game, but we’ve seen that anything can happen.
Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and DeAndre Hunter will need to continue their push towards the championship with more high-level play in order to survive and advance. Virginia fans would probably try to avoid putting the ball in Diakite’s hands in the final seconds if possible, in this one.
In my mind, Bruce Pearl has the hottest team in the field by far. They’ve already killed Kansas and North Carolina and have also survived Kentucky in order to get here, which is probably the most impressive March resume of any team.
They’ve proven they can go up-tempo and be successful, they’ve proven they can slow things down and be successful, but most importantly, they’ve proven they can find ways to win. Even without Chuma Okeke, players like Jared Harper and Bryce Brown have been able to pick up the slack and then some.
If the Tigers have a shooting performance like they did against UNC, they can beat anyone. This team has been the magic of the tournament, but their toughest test is in Virginia in the Final Four. We will see if they can keep up the hot play against such a good defense in this highly-anticipated Final Four matchup.
Key to the Game
This is all about how Auburn can match up with Virginia’s defense. They, in all likelihood, will have limited attempts to run in transition against the Cavaliers, limited second chance opportunities, and very limited open looks. They either need to find some sort of mismatch or just have a hot shooting night, hitting contested shots and forcing fouls. You know what Virginia is going to bring to the table, very few have been able to best it, but there is a formula to breaking down the suffocating Tony Bennett defense.
Ultimately, I’m riding with defense in both of these Final Four games. I think that Texas Tech will force Michigan State into running a small ball lineup in which the Spartans are most vulnerable. They will make MSU work for every shot and I predict a touch game for Cassius Winston which will eventually prove fatal for the Spartans.
I also think Virginia will end the run of the Auburn Tigers. Virginia is playing for more than a championship and just play such a beautiful brand of basketball that they seem nearly unbeatable. Okeke is a huge loss as he would seem to be the biggest mismatch against Virginia. You just get the feeling that UVA does everything well defensively that Auburn has been striving off of.
Texas Tech over Michigan State – 68-66
Virginia over Auburn – 71-61
In what could be the lowest scoring National Championship ever, Virginia and Texas Tech would be in a dog fight for the title. It could be a first to 60 points wins in a duel between the top two defensive units in the nation. But in the end, it only seems right that Virginia will redeem themselves after the historic loss to UMBC and cut down the nets this year in an ESPN 30 for 30 worthy fashion. DeAndre Hunter would likely guard Jarrett Culver and could give him fits. Really, in all areas of the court, Virginia seems like the best team in the field and there’s no real reason they shouldn’t emerge victorious.