By Josh Wiggins
PSDC March Madness Contributor
Well everyone, we have made it to the Final Four. The four programs remaining in this tournament have proven they deserve a chance at winning the national championship, beating every team in front of them. Kentucky, Wisconsin and Duke were expected to make it to this point, at least to some degree. Sure, nothing is guaranteed in this tourney, and there is no easy path to the Final Four. But, these teams were ranked as No. 1 seeds for a reason. Michigan State, on the other hand, has defied the odds to get to this point. Beating both Virginia and Villanova, the Spartans have had the most difficult journey to get to this point as a No. 7 seed. However, isn’t this what we expect from the Tom Izzo-led Michigan State team? This is a familiar role for them, and they have proven that they are just as dangerous as their opponents.
At this point, there may be no true “underdogs” in these two games, but there are definitely favorites to win. That said, don’t put too much stock in playing favorites in these two matchups. Reaching the Final Four is not a fluke, and all four of these teams are going to give it everything they have to win two more games. The matchups are as close as they have been all tournament, so look for those teams predicted to lose to put up a fight, and maybe even move on to the championship game.
Kentucky vs Wisconsin
Kentucky is the most talented team in college basketball this year and one of the best in recent history. After running through the regular season undefeated, the vast majority of experts picked them as the clear favorite to win the tournament before the brackets were even released. This young team is loaded with size and skill, and their unselfish style of play spreads the scoring burden while shutting down opposing offenses with the best defense in the NCAA. This formula has worked all tournament long, and most expect more of the same going forward. At their best, the Wildcats are nearly unbeatable, and they have found ways to win even when playing below their potential.
All of that being said, I expect the perfect season to end here. Both Wisconsin and Kentucky have teams that are talented enough to win this championship, but this prediction goes beyond that. Wisconsin has the size and offensive ability to match up with the Wildcats, so on paper, they at least have a chance. But the difference in this game will go beyond statistics and records. The difference in this game will be intangible.
Kentucky is a great team, but the Badgers have been on a mission to win this tournament since they lost to Kentucky last year. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker returned to Wisconsin to win this tournament, despite the fact they were projected as first-round picks in the NBA draft last year. The Wildcat core will likely head to the NBA next year, whether they win or lose this game. I’m not questioning Kentucky’s will to win this game, but this matchup is personal for Wisconsin after their heartbreaking exit in the Final Four last year. Kaminsky and Dekker are tremendous players, but look for something special from them in this one. Expect them to do whatever it takes to lead their team to a victory here.
Michigan State vs Duke
Just like Kentucky and Wisconsin, Duke is one of the best teams in this tournament, as evidenced by their No. 1 seed. Offensively, the Blue Devils can be nearly impossible to shut down with their multi-faceted attack. On one hand, the sheer talent of the Duke starting lineup allows them to score quickly and effectively, sometimes overwhelming their opponents for stretches. At the same time, Coach K has clearly put his coaching expertise to work with this team. Despite having such a young core led by freshman center Jahlil Okafor, this team is consistently able to slow down and control the floor when the situation calls for it. Throughout this tournament, Duke has put its strengths on display, and the results have reflected that. When Duke is playing well, they are tough to slow down, and their defense is solid enough to prevent anyone from keeping up. Based on the stats, Duke should win this one, but counting out Michigan State too quickly is a mistake.
Duke may be one of the most talented teams left in the tournament, but Michigan State may be the most balanced. This should surprise no one, but Tom Izzo has once again proven himself as one of the best coaches in college basketball by getting the Spartans to the Final Four this year. Few would argue that Michigan State has the raw talent to match up with the Blue Devils, but Izzo is consistently able to put his players in a position to succeed. Michigan State has played a balanced offensive style while shutting down their opponents defensively.
While Michigan State may not be able to completely shut down the Blue Devil offense, look for them to at least frustrate the core of freshmen for Duke. Jahlil Okafor has struggled to score at times during this tournament, so watch for Izzo to exploit that. The Spartans have really hit their stride at the right time this season, and they have proven how dangerous they can be. Duke has the better players, but Michigan State feels like the better team.
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