By Chris Carlson The Final Four is all set and everyone is ready for opening tip in Minneapolis. The Sweet 16 was entertaining no doubt, but all four of the Elite 8 games were beyond phenomenal. This year’s field of four has absolutely no 1 and done players and it’s a breath of fresh air.
#1 seed Virginia vs. #5 seed Auburn
The Auburn Tigers defeated #2 Kentucky in the Elite 8 and demolished #1 North Carolina in route to the Final Four. Virginia has been knocking on the door of becoming an elite-program for quite a few years and after last year’s unbelievable 1st round debacle, the Cavaliers finally kicked the door in. Both teams are impressive on defense especially Virginia, and well balanced on offense. Auburn will be once again without the services of big man Chuma Okeke but that didn’t stop them last Sunday afternoon. Guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper will have to deliver similar to the combined 50 points they scored against Kentucky.
Deandre Hunter was the defensive player of the year in the ACC and a very sound player offensively. The combination of smothering defense and the ability to knock down outside shots from Virginia will be too much to overcome in an otherwise tightly contested National Semifinal. At some point the 3’s can’t keep falling at the same rate for Auburn, can they?
The Pick: Virginia
#2 seed Michigan State vs. #3 seed Texas Tech
Last year the Texas Tech Red Raiders fell short in the Elite 8 to the eventual NCAA champs Villanova. This year Texas Tech finds itself ever so close to a spot in the championship game. In recent years Michigan State fell well short of expectations to the point of Coach Tom Izzo getting some heat for early exits. This Spartans club is a perfect example of the veteran presents seen on all 4 teams. Sure, last year Sparty was considerably more talented but with only one ball to share, this year’s team have clear cut roles to fill hence a better overall product.
Mr. do-it-all Jarrett Culver will need some help specifically transfer players in Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens. Statistically speaking Texas Tech is better at defense but almost every other category favors the Spartans. In a game played in the 60’s, coaching will play a slight differential in the outcome to what should be a rough and tumble throwback contest. One could argue these two teams are the hottest coming into Final Four weekend. In the closing minutes behind the leadership of Cassius Winston, Sparty shuts the door on the free throw line.
The Pick: Michigan State
Champion Game Michigan State vs. Virginia
Michigan State and Virginia square off for all the marbles on Monday night in front of a national audience. This won’t be the first tournament meeting between the two, in 2014 and 2015 they met and the Spartans prevailed. Michigan State is riding a 10-game winning streak and 14 out of their l5 outings. Virginia’s only losses during the regular season came against Duke. The Cavaliers are long known for defense but this year’s team is better on offensive and can really knock down shots from the outside.
Neither team relies heavily on one player instead depending on a spread effort across the board. Several names could be mentioned on either side, however MSU Cassius Winston is the standout and at the end of the day will be the overriding reason the Spartans win or lose. Winston has the ability to hit crucial shots from the 3-point line or midrange, not to mention driving to the rack all while making the right decisions. Xavier Tillman has filled in very nicely for a not all the way healthy Nick Ward. The action will be fought tooth-and-nail on the hardwood battlefield full of energetic runs and scoreless minutes. The game will be on the table for either club to win, with under a minute to play Michigan State will put the icing on the cake and win one for Izzo.
The Pick: Michigan State
Quick Hits Tourney Recap
-Texas Tech earns their first trip to the Final 4 in school history.
-Auburn joins the Red Raiders with the Tigers gaining their first berth to Final Four as well.
-The University of Virginia will be making their first appearance in the Final Four since 1984.
-Zion Williamson scored 104 point thru 4 NCAA Tournament games nearly matching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 106.
-The only program in the last 50 years to cut down the nets as a first time Final Four qualifier was the UConn Huskies back in 1999.
-Purdue’s stud guard Carsen Edwards set the record for most made 3-pointers at 28 in only four games topping Michigan sharp shooter Glenn Rice but it took him 6 games for 27 back in 1989.
Written by Chris Carlson Host of The College Ball Show Podcast available at blogtalkradio.com/ ropeadoperadio Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio