NCAA Final Four Preview: Can Michigan State Withstand a Trio of Newcomers Over College Basketball’s Biggest Weekend?

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Updated: April 5, 2019
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Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan, and nearly all of college basketball’s blue bloods have gone by the wayside and will be spectators for the 2019 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. Let’s take a look at who will be on the big stage at U.S. Bank Field in Minneapolis.

No. 2 Michigan State vs. No.3 Texas Tech

The only one of the familiar faces left to casual March Madness fans is Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.

This is Sparty’s third Final Four appearance this decade and the eighth in the Izzo era.

While Michigan State has a history of reaching the final weekend, wins in national semifinal and championship game have been hard to come by. The Spartans are 3-6 under Izzo in the Final Four with one title, coming in 2010 with Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson leading the way.

Standing in Michigan State’s way is Texas Tech, a team riding an emerging superstar and a suffocating defense to its first-ever Final Four appearance.

Shooting guard Jarrett Culver – a homegrown product from Lubbock, Texas – is turning heads and gaining attention on the national radar. The 6’5” sophomore is averaging 21.5 points in the tournament

In the second round, the Red Raiders held hot-shooting Buffalo to 58 points. A Sweet 16 blowout of No. 2 Michigan followed, in a game where the Wolverines had the lowest first half output – 16 points – in the school’s tournament history. A 73-69 Elite 8 upset of Gonzaga followed, as the Zags didn’t break the 70-point mark for just the fourth time this season.

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 5 Auburn

Virginia, making their first Final Four appearance since 1984, is having the ultimate bounce-back tournament.

The Cavaliers were the laughing stock of college basketball after not only coming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Cavs were blown out by UMBC, 74-54. After last year’s Virginia team went down in infamy, history began to repeat itself this year, as No. 16 Gardner-Webb roared out to a 30-16 lead and led by six at halftime.

Head coach Tony Bennett learned from last year, when an assistant barged into the locker room and lit up the Hoos when they were tied with UMBC. The browbeating didn’t help, as the Cavs were outscored by 20 points in the final 20 minutes. This year, Bennett told his staff, “Uplift them.” Virginia went out and regained their composure and dignity in a 71-56 win.

A comfortable win over No. 9 Oklahoma followed, and then a pair of nail-biters last weekend – surviving a poor shooting night in a 53-49 win over No. 12 Oregon, then needing a last-second miracle in regulation from Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite to win the South Region over No. 3 Purdue in overtime, 80-75.

The Cavaliers are matching up with college basketball’s hottest team.

After a blowout loss at Kentucky on February 23, No. 5 Auburn has rolled off 12-straight wins, including two victories over SEC regular season champion Tennessee, a 17-point destruction of No. 1 seed North Carolina, and avenging the loss at Rupp Arena with a 77-71 overtime triumph over No. 2 Kentucky last Sunday.

It’s been a long road to redemption for head coach Bruce Pearl. After bringing Tennessee men’s basketball its greatest run of success from 2006-2010, Pearl was fired in 2011 for committing NCAA recruiting violations. Pearl sat out for three seasons, before emerging with Auburn. After recording the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003 last season, Pearl took the Tigers to new heights this season – notching just the second SEC tournament title in school history, followed by its first-ever Final Four berth.

PREDICTIONS:

While upsets in the first two weekends of the NCAA tourney are commonplace, it’s less common once we reach the pinnacle weekend. With that in mind, here’s how we see the Final Four playing out.

SEMIFINALS:

Michigan State 73, Texas Tech 72

Virginia 78, Auburn 70

CHAMPIONSHIP:

Michigan State 68, Virginia 64

1175870cookie-checkNCAA Final Four Preview: Can Michigan State Withstand a Trio of Newcomers Over College Basketball’s Biggest Weekend?
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