Final Four has so much to offer
Auburn, Virginia, Michigan State and Texas Tech more than fill the void of Duke.
The absence of Zion Williamson, Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils on the court fester in Minneapolis this week. Everyone moaned about their absence in this year’s Final Four after Michigan State edged Duke 68-67 in a classic NCAA Tournament East Region final on Sunday. Some said they are missing out on greatness.
By the way people complained, one would think the Final Four should not go on because Duke is not there. Sorry to tell those folks that the show must go on Saturday. No one stops for anyone.
Virginia, Auburn, Texas Tech and Michigan State will fill the void in Duke’s absence. Both games on Saturday should satisfy the appetite of college basketball fans once they tune into the games.
In the Virginia and Auburn contest, both teams offer contrasting styles. Auburn will try to break down Virginia’s defense by shooting threes, which predicates Auburn’s offense. Virginia counteracts by playing pressure defense to slow down Auburn’s shooting.
The emotional Bruce Pearl fuels the Auburn Tigers as head coach while Virginia coach Tony Bennett leads his team to win in a methodical fashion through Xs and Os.
Here’s also what’s interesting: Auburn defends well and Virginia shoots well. This unknown part of both teams serve as an interesting subplot to this game.
Virginia gets labeled as a team that bores basketball purists based on its defensive principles Bennett implements on his team. Yes, the Virginia Cavaliers are a defensive team, but they are better than people give them credit offensively, which is why they can keep up with Auburn.
This contest should be in the late sixties to early seventies. Whoever scores 70 wins the game. It comes down to who shoots better from the outside that makes the difference in the game.
Look for both teams to grind it out. In a game like this, winning ugly can be beautiful. Style points get thrown out of the conversation when people have memories of a Final Four or a national championship game. It’s about whether or not that team did enough to advance to the national title game and eventually win it in the next game.
This bridges to the second game of the Final Four. Texas Tech and Michigan State will grind it out to play the winner of Virginia and Auburn game. That contest will make the first night of the contest look like a work of art. Talk about ugly basketball. It will be a war of attrition by both teams that are based on defense.
This game comes down to which big men survive the war of attrition when it comes to rebounds, scoring and wearing others down. Michigan State counters Texas Tech’s big men of Tariq Owens, Jarrett Culver, Norense Odiase with the trio of Xavier Tillman, Nick Ward and Aaron Henry. Michigan State’s depth in size serves as a advantage in game like this.
Guard play will also turn out to be the difference maker in this contest. Michigan State guard Cassius Winston and Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney should put on a show as they fuel their respective teams.
Look for Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and Texas Tech coach Chris Beard to put on a coaching clinic. Watching them make counter moves in using players will be fascinating.
One can make a case the second game is the national championship game than the game on Monday night. Both teams received good fortune so far in their trip to the Final Four. They have found ways to win, and their guards came through with much-needed shots. Both teams played the best defense of all teams participating in the tournament. Destiny seems to be on either team’s side at this point.
The true college basketball fans embrace these four games. They understand how good those teams have been this season and in this tournament. They will survive without Duke.
For the causal basketball fans, they either get over Duke’s absence or they will not watch. If it’s the latter, it’s their loss, not college basketball’s.
Life goes on without Duke. Expect those four teams to put on a show this weekend in Minneapolis. They demonstrated they are good enough to be there based on the season they had and the tournament they had.
The beauty of these four teams is it’s not just one guy. It’s a team. No one-and-done players. Players that experienced the battles of playing together for four years. Players staying for four years to get better as people and basketball players.
There’s more to college basketball than just Duke and Williamson.
Minneapolis is about to find out.