NCAA men's tournament: 2019 Final 4 preview


The 2019 Final Four in the NCAA men's tournament consists of four programs from all types of basketball pedigrees.

A blue blood of the group is the Michigan State Spartans. Head coach Tom Izzo has been a legend around these parts -- college basketball -- for ages. Izzo has been the head coach of the Spartans since 1995 and this will be the 8th time Michigan State has reached the Final Four under his helm.

They last appeared in 2015, last reaching the title game in 2009, where they lost to North Carolina. The Spartans have only won the entire thing once under Izzo, back in the year 2000 (cue Conan O'Brien music) when they defeated the Florida Gators.

The three other teams in this year's Final Four? Well, they are in uncharted waters, with two of three never making it this far before.

Michigan State's opponent is the third-seed from the West, the Texas Tech Raiders. This will be Texas Tech's first appearance in the Final Four. In fact, until last season when they reached the Elite Eight, the Red Raiders had never advanced past the Sweet Sixteen.

Joining Texas Tech in the first timer's club is the Tigers out of Auburn. The fifth-seed out of the Midwest region, the Tigers had only even made it as far as the Elite Eight once, back in 1986. Between 2003 and 2018, Auburn hadn't actually even made the tournament so making it to the Final Four in only their second year back in the tourney in 15 years is exceptional.

Rounding out the field, and Auburn's opponent, is the only no. 1 seed remaining in the tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia for years has been known as a top program that has faded away come tournament time. Rock bottom may have been hit last season when the Cavaliers became the first no. 1 seed in the men's NCAA tournament to lose to the 16th-seed.

The Cavs, too, will be seeking their first NCAA tournament title and are back in the Final Four for the first time since 1984.

Michigan State vs Texas Tech

Both of these teams knocked off a no. 1 seed to get here, with the Spartans (32-6) defeating the Duke Blue Devils and Texas Tech (30-6) defeating Gonzaga.

Michigan State is averaging 73.5 points per game in the tourney while allowing 61.3. Before the Duke game, the Spartans had a + 42 rebounding advantage, but saw that slip to - 11 against the Blue Devils. 

The Spartans are methodical on offense and use the three-point attempt as an option rather than a necessity. In the tournament's first two games, they were a combined 11-34 before going off for a 13-32 performance against LSU. Things got back to normal against Duke as the Spartans were 6-19.

Cassius Winston has been the catalyst on offense, averaging 19 points and 7.8 assists per game in the tournament. Xavier Tillman has also been delivering on offense with 15.3 ppg. And while Kenny Goins likely won't score a lot (7 ppg) he provides a steady veteran presence and is averaging 9.3 rebounds in the tourney.

Texas Tech will slow a team down and is holding opponents to 57 points per game. They average 72 themselves and also, in similar fashion to Michigan State, use the three as needed. They've made only 26 in four tournament games, with nine of those coming against Gonzaga.

Jarrett Culver is delivering 21.5 points over the last four games. Scoring is balanced behind Culver, with Davide Moretti averaging 12 and Matt Mooney averaging 11.8. Mooney also has 12 steals in the tournament.

This game will likely be a defense-oriented affair. Both teams are patient and play excellent defense. The Spartans defeated Texas earlier this season and lost to Kansas way back in November. Texas Tech defeated Texas twice, but split with Kansas and lost to Duke by 11.

Virginia vs Auburn

This game might see a little bit more offense, depending on much Auburn is allowed to push the pace. Virginia is still a defense-first team, but has been given more freedom this year on offense (or so it seems). Both teams will shoot the three and it may just come down to how well Auburn's big guys can do and if their guards are able to get into the paint.

Virginia (33-3) has only lost to ACC foes this season, with two of those losses coming to Duke. The Cavaliers are averaging 66.8 points per game in the tournament and holding opponents to 57.8. They have struggled to shoot the three in the tournament (32-107) but hold a + 32 advantage on the boards.

A key for Virginia will be the play of their top three guards. Ty Jerome has been the most consistent of the tournament, averaging 15.5 points per game, including 24 in the Elite Eight victory over Purdue. Jerome is also averaging 5.5 assists.

The other two guards have struggled at times. Kyle Guy finally emerged in the Purdue game, scoring 25. He's averaging 11.8 in the tournament and had only 12 points in the first two games. He's also shooting 21 percent from three-point range.

De'Andre Hunter started off strong but has slumped off. He is still averaging 13.5 points per game but will need to play like the projected lotto pick he his if the Cavs hope to win. 

Mamadi Diakite locks down the middle, averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds per game.

Diakite might give Auburn trouble in the paint, especially after the unfortunate injury to Auburn (30-9) star Chuma Okeke. Okeke had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a Sweet 16 game before his knee injury. In his place, Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer will handle the interior.

Guard play, however, has been the true strength of the Tigers and it showed in the Elite Eight victory over Kentucky. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combined for 50 points in the game and are pulling the majority of the weight in the tournament.

Brown is averaging 18.3 points per game and Harper 17.5

The Tigers average 30 three-point attempts in the tournament, making just over 12 per game (49-121). It is their greatest strength, but was largely absent (7-23) even as they defeated Kentucky.

Auburn is scoring 85.3 points in the tournament while allowing 75.8. 

Predictions

Take these as you will, considering I have exactly zero teams remaining in the tournament.
  • Texas Tech over Michigan State
  • Virginia over Auburn
  • Final: Virginia over Texas Tech

Thanks for following along with this year's men's tournament. 

photo credit: Pexels.com

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