The Final Four carries it’s own bit of style and panache to the table, that year in and year out remains to be near impossible to predict. The four teams that remain standing after a week and a half of action, have proved their strength both mentally and physically.
Of the Final Four teams, the injury bug has bitten both the Auburn Tigers and Michigan State Spartans, with the Spartans losing Kyle Ahrens in the BIG 10 title game. The Tigers have been able to advance deeper into to the tournament without their leading rebounder Chuma Okeke. However, both teams remain in the hunt for a national championship.
The other two remaining teams, Virginia and Texas Tech, have both hunkered down and showcased their elite level defensive prowess.
Of these Final Four teams, each team has shown their own strengths but have also revealed some weaknesses. This piece will discuss these, and predict which team will leave Minnesota and return to their respective campus with a national championship title.
Here’s what you, the fans, said:
Now that we are at this stage…
Who wins the 2019 Men’s NCAA Basketball Championship?
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) April 1, 2019
#5 Auburn Tigers
Strength: Backcourt scoring
The two leading scorers for Auburn include their stellar backcourt in Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. In their win over one of college basketball’s blue-bloods in Kentucky, they relied heavily on the play-making and shot-making ability of both Harper and Brown. They scored a combined 50 points and scored timely in clutch situations.
Assuming they are misfiring from the field, the Tigers are in for a world of hurt. But when they are on, this team can beat anyone.
Does anybody else find it ironic that the team that has trouble rebounding has one of their greatest alumni named the ’round-mound of rebound’? Maybe it’s just me.
With that said, there is no hiding the fact that the Tigers have suffered in grabbing rebounds throughout their entire regular season and post-season. Not only has Auburn been out-rebounded in every tournament game thus far, but they are also playing without their leading rebounder in Okeke.
Regardless of Okeke’s health, they were never an elite rebounding team by any stretch of the imagination, ranking 233rd in the nation in rebounds per game. Luckily for them, Virginia is not an intimidating presence in the rebounding department as they rank a few spots below them at 212th in rebounds per game.
#1 Virginia Cavaliers
A typical Virginia game is like watching paint dry. If you are a fan of Virginia you know what I am talking about. If you are not, then the low-scoring games that the Cavaliers find themselves in are a testament to their style of play.
For Virginia, their defense consists of closing out on every shot and making sure their rotation and gap control is crisp and fluid. In doing that, the Cavaliers have managed to earn the nation’s number one overall ranking in opponents points per game, allowing just 55.5 points per game.
So far in this year’s tournament, they’ve managed to hold their opponents to just above their season average with 57.7 points per game in their four victories.
With the amount of energy expended on the defensive side of the ball, sometimes it hinders their offense. Led by their two Third-Team AP All-American’s Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter, the Virginia offense ranks 211th in points per game. Only Guy, Hunter, and Ty Jerome average double figures in the scoring department.
Bench point guard Kihei Clark will never light up the scoreboard but makes up for in his hustle and basketball IQ. Ask Purdue fans about his passing ability as well.
#3 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Strength: Defense/ Three-Point Shooting
Much like Virginia, the defense for the Red Raiders ranks near the top of the nation in scoring defense at third. They allowed just 59 points per game all season to their opponents. Only one opponent got over that threshold this tournament so far; the number one seeded Gonzaga in the elite eight.
Watch the highlights against Michigan to get an idea of the athleticism this defense possesses. You won’t be disappointed.
The three-point shooting for Texas Tech is something that can catch fire at any instant. While they have not “shot the lights-out” on anybody (yet) they have players that are capable of doing so. Four Red Raiders guards shoot over 38 percent from beyond the arc with Davide Moretti shooting an absurd 46.1 percent from beyond the arc on the year.
Davide Moretti with the BIG 3 for Texas Tech!! pic.twitter.com/9zrhHJ20pf
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) March 31, 2019
While it may be something small to nitpick on about this Texas Tech team, is they do not rely on gathering assists on the offensive end. NBA prospect Jarrett Culver leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists but his season assist average only reaches 3.8.
Heading into the tournament ranked 114th in assists, they have managed to get by their opponents without the need of assisting on made baskets. This may be nothing and it could very well not play a factor in the Final Four but if the game becomes slowed down, then the better facilitating team might have the slight edge.
#2 Michigan State Spartans
Strength: Cassius Winston
Cassius Winston is showing what a steady floor general does for a team in all aspects of the game. Pace control, getting people involved, high-iq defense. It's all there. pic.twitter.com/Vm3vlUdyJn
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) March 31, 2019
First-Team All-American and one of the best guards in the nation, Winston has lifted the Spartans to the Final Four for the 10th time in program history. What makes Winston stand out is his dual ability to score and facilitate and know exactly when to do each. He has managed to average 19.0 points per game and 7.7 assists per game.
While basketball is a team game, the effort and boost that Winston has given head coach Tom Izzo and the rest of his players is unmatched.
Weakness: Turnovers Margin
The Spartans rank 320th out of 348 Division-I schools in the nation in turnover margin. Not pretty.
Across the board offensively, the Spartans are strong with a balanced inside-outside presence that seems required to win a championship. The one thing that hurts them, however, is the number of turnovers they commit without forcing any back on the defensive end. In their win over Duke, it got better with the Spartans forcing the Blue Devils into 17 turnovers to their six. In order to win now, they must keep the same level of concentration.
With every possession being the most important possession of these student-athletes lives, a more focused approach must be taken on ball possession.
#1 Virginia vs. #5 Auburn
#3 Texas Tech vs. #2 Michigan State
#1 Virginia vs. #3 Michigan State