By: Nick Pooler
Virginia. Michigan State. Texas Tech. Auburn. Around 8,000 of the 17.2 million brackets correctly picked this final four matchup. Yes, people are bummed that we will not be seeing North Carolina/Duke round 4. But, what people need to realize is just how special this final four is. There four coaches have dedicated their time and life to their respective programs. Tony Bennett (Virginia), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Chris Beard (Texas Tech) and Bruce Pearl (Auburn). They are tired of being early round exits and this is the year that they all have decided to make a name for themselves.
1. Virginia vs. 5. Auburn
Virginia brings a lot to the table. After finishing the year at 33-3, the Cavaliers showed that they would overcome that loss to UMBC a season ago. Led by a trio of scorers; Jr. G Kyle Guy, Jr. G Ty Jerome, and SO F De’Andre Hunter. It does not just stop there either. They are controlled in the paint by the lone senior of the team, 6’10 C Jack Salt who has plenty of experience under his belt. Freshman PG Kihei Clark has pushed himself into a leadership role as the year has gone on. Also, how could we forget the reason they are here, junior forward Mamadi Diakite who is well known for his gold hair but should stick out even more from his last second shot against Purdue to put the game to overtime. Virginia has a well balanced attack that is very hard to stop when they are on. Not only the offensive attack, but the defense has led them to victories this season that include some top teams such as: Syracuse, Louisville, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Purdue. Tony Bennett has a squad that is not here to mess around and if I’m Auburn, I would bring everything I got.
On the other side we have Auburn. Auburn has faced a lot of adversity this season. Nothing bigger than losing their standout center Chuma Okeke to a devastating injury in the NCAA tournament win over North Carolina. Okeke was averaging 12.0 ppg and 6.8 rpg before going out for the year. People complained and said Auburn did not have enough in the tank to beat Kentucky because they just lost their size down low. Auburn’s guards took that heart and decided that meant they had to play even harder. Led by Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, the Tigers played absolutely out of their minds. Against Kentucky in the Elite Eight matchup, Brown scored 24 points and Harper scored 26. Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore cleaned up the glass as they went on to defeat the Wildcats. Bruce Pearl’s system has been just phenomenal this year for the players he has. They have all bought in and all of them are ready to put Auburn basketball on the map. After all, they are doing this one for Chuma.
Prediction: Virginia 71 vs. Auburn 67
Yes, both teams deserve to win this one. But in my opinion, Virginia deserves it more for facing the world after last years loss to UMBC. They have the team to do it, and if the trio is on, watch out Auburn.
2. Michigan State vs. 3. Texas Tech
Michigan State felt they were under ranked from the start. They felt 100% they should have been a one seed and to make matters worse, they were put in the same quadrant as the number one overall seed. So what did they do? Tom Izzo led his players to a huge win over Duke in the Elite Eight last weekend. Busting millions of brackets in the world and the Spartans are determined to crush more. Led by JR G Cassius Winston, Michigan State is determined to go all the way. It is not just Winston contributing though, SR G Matt McQuaid, JR F Nick Ward, SR F Kenny Goins, FR G Aaron Henry, and SO F Xavier Tillman have all stepped into huge roles for Izzo. The mostimportant part to realize is that they are doing this all without potential lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft Joshua Langford who has been out with an injury the majority of the year. Izzo brings his team in with a record of 32-6, with key wins over Ohio State (3 times), Florida, Purdue, Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota (2 times), Wisconsin (2 times), Michigan (3 times), LSU and now Duke. This team is destined for a huge finish and it will be well deserved. But they must get passed the toughest defensive team they have played all year, Texas Tech.
Texas Tech has laid under the radar for the most part. They are one of those teams where you do not hear much about them and then come tournament time when you go to fill out your bracket, you see the 3 seeded Texas Tech and go, “Oh yeah, I should probably pick them”. The Red Raiders are coming off one of their most successful season yet led by Chris Beard. They got to this point in the tourney by beating Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga. Led by top players Jarrett Culver (18.9 ppg), Davide Moretti (11.6 ppg) and Matt Mooney (11.0 ppg), Texas Tech finished the year at 30-6 and tied for first in the Big-12 with Kansas State. Beard has his team playing defense at a high level as well. As a team they average 7.4 steals a game to go along with 4.9 blocks per game. This is a team you do not want to see. Just ask Gonzaga and Michigan. My only concern with Texas Tech is if Michigan State can find a way to break through their strong defense, do the Red Raiders have the offense to keep up with the Spartans? Another big name to watch out for in this one is SR C Tariq Owens down low for Texas Tech. The 6’10 big man can determine a lot that will go on down low in this matchup.
Prediction: Michigan State 62 vs. Texas Tech 51
I think Michigan State will solve this defensive attack. I also think Tom Izzo is sick and tired of listening to the doubters. He is ready to take his coaching career and players to the next level. Look for a Virginia vs. Michigan State championship game Monday night.