Final Four 2019 Preview
Although it was a lackluster start to the NCAA Tournament, it’s heated up in fantastic fashion with some great games in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight. While most people’s brackets have been busted, there are two great matchups on Saturday.
No one foresaw Texas Tech and Auburn in the Final Four at the beginning of the season. Most people probably didn’t see Auburn in the Final Four at all, considering they had to play and BEAT Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. The non-traditional teams have flooded the Final Four, with Michigan State being the only blue blood left in this tournament. Let’s break down each matchup.
Texas Tech (3) vs Michigan State (2)
This is going to be all about defense. Texas Tech is the best defensive team in the NCAA, regardless of what statistics will tell you. They are long, they are feisty, and they will give you as little time as possible to set up your offense. They stopped a great Gonzaga team in their tracks and slowed down a Buffalo team that was averaging the third most points in the NCAA.
As for Michigan State? Well it comes down to two things; One is the play of Cassius Winston, who has been a Godsend for the Spartans at point guard. The other is of course Tom Izzo, who is one of the greatest coaches in NCAA history. As the saying goes, January, February, Izzo, April.
Anyway, Chris Beard is in completely uncharted territory but he has the best player in this game on his team. Jarrett Culliver has been lighting it up all season and has stepped his game up in the NCAA Tournament. He is an excellent scorer and an even better defender, something that you don’t see all that often in college. Look for the Red Raiders to frustrate the Spartans on their way to the NCAA Tournament Final. They’ll force them into bad shots and turnovers like no other team in the country can. Also note that the death of Texas Tech fan Nipsey Hussle could be something for Texas Tech to play for.
Texas Tech 70, Michigan State 64
Auburn (5) vs Virginia (1)
While Auburn may not be one of the best four teams in the tournament, let alone their own bracket, they are a fun bunch to watch. They got hot at the right time under the tutelage of Bruce Pearl, formerly of Tennessee. The Virginia Cavaliers are in the Final Four for the first time in 30+ years (1984) and after last season’s meltdown against #16 seed UMBC, this is a true tale of redemption.
Tony Bennett has always relied on defense to spring Virginia into the upper echelon of college basketball. However with Kyle Guy and De’andre Hunter, two of the top basketball players in college, Virginia has also become an offensive juggernaut. Their issue last season was they relied so heavily on their defense. They weren’t able to score and that ultimately led to their downfall.
It’s a new season and a matchup between two vastly different teams. Virginia is a grind-it-out kind of team that thrives on ball screens, punishing defense and a half court press. Auburn on the other hand is a run and gun team that also plays good defense but wants to push the pace by any means necessary. It’s a good dichotomy to have and an intriguing matchup.
The key to this game will be the play of Auburn’s top player Bryce Brown. He is the Batman to Jared Harper’s Robin and if he gets hot he could be the difference maker. They’ll be severely lacking in their lineup as one of their top forwards, Chuma Okeke, is out for the rest of the tournament.
Unfortunately for Auburn, they’re running into a buzzsaw. This UVA team can score AND defend, and will be a very tough out. Don’t be surprised if this is a much lower scoring game than Auburn wants to play. Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers will be moving on.
Virginia 62, Auburn 56