By Justin Rimpi
The NCAA men’s basketball Final Four and national championship game will take place Saturday and Monday, respectively, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
On April 8, a champion will be crowned and the 2018-2019 college basketball will officially come to a close.
The matchups in the Final Four:
(5) Auburn vs. (1) Virginia (Saturday, 6:09 p.m., CBS)
(3) Texas Tech vs. (2) Michigan State (Saturday, 8:49 p.m., CBS)
The Auburn Tigers (30-9) are entering Minneapolis red-hot, winning 12 games in a row including a SEC tournament crown. Bruce Pearl, the head coach for the Tigers, is coaching his first Final Four of his career and the first in Auburn’s history.
The Tigers were only predicted to make the FF by 1.6 percent of brackets in the ESPN Tournament Challenge.
Auburn is the highest-scoring team left in the tournament, scoring 85.3 ppg on just over 40 percent shooting from long-range. The Tigers have also made the most 3’s of any of the remaining teams with 49. The Tigers are also shooting 48 percent from the field as a team.
Auburn lost their starting sophomore forward Chuma Okeke late in the team’s 97-80 “Sweet 16” victory against UNC to a torn ACL.
Auburn’s road to the Final Four:
Round of 64: vs. New Mexico State, 78-77
Round of 32: vs. Kansas, 89-75
Round of 16: vs. UNC, 97-80
Round of 8: vs. Kentucky, 77-71 (OT)
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia Cavaliers (33-3) are one of the best defensive teams in college basketball.
The Cavaliers are surrendering under 58 points a game in the tournament after leading the nation by allowing under 58 points a game in the regular season and holding opponents to just over 38 percent shooting from the field.
This is the first Final Four for Virginia head coach Tony Bennett and the first for the school since 1984 where they were defeated by Houston 49-47 in the Final Four.
Virginia had an early exodus from last year’s tournament by being stunned by No.16-seeded UMBC, 74-54 — the first time that a 16 seed upended a 1 seed in the history of the “Big Dance.”
UVA was picked to advance to this round by 21 percent of entries in the ESPN Tournament Challenge.
Virginia has two players named AP Third-Team All Americans in junior guard Kyle Guy and sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter. Guy averaged 15.6 ppg while Hunter averaged 15.1 ppg this season.
Virginia’s road to the Final Four:
Round of 64: vs. Gardner- Webb, 71-56
Round of 32: vs. Oklahoma, 63-51
Round of 16: vs. Oregon, 53-49
Round of 8: vs. Purdue, 80-75 (OT)
Scouting Report for matchup:
This game will truly come down to great offense in the Auburn Tigers against the suffocating defense of the Virginia Cavaliers. As has been the case in this year’s NCAA tournament, good defense trumps good offense. This will be the case in the Final Four in Minneapolis.
Both teams will get off to get a slow start due to the nature of the task at hand and due to the game taking place in a football stadium that houses the Minnesota Vikings (a team owned by an FDU alum). The first part of this game of this game will be a feeling out period for both teams as they try to gauge how this Final Four contest will end up unfolding.
Auburn knows they need to shot the ball well if they want to upset the heavily-favored Cavaliers, but they will not be able to do so.
Virginia will slow the game down and limit Auburn’s possessions. This plays directly into the hands of the Cavaliers as Auburn will have to beat UVA at their own game.
The relatively slow pace in which the Cavaliers play will keep the game close as the final seconds tick off the clock. Ultimately, the Cavaliers will do just enough and hang on as the game clock hits triple zero.
Bennett will be coaching in his first National Championship Game on April 8, and have a golden opportunity to rewrite his legacy after the disastrous 2018 appearance.
Prediction: Virginia 61, Auburn: 57
The Michigan State Spartans (32-6) won the 2019 BIG 12 conference tournament championship and enter Minneapolis on a high-note after slipping past the overall No.1-seeded Duke Blue Devils, 68-67.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, widely regarded as one of the best coaches in college basketball, is in his eighth Final Four at the helm of the Spartans and is seeking his second national championship. Izzo’s first title came in 1999.
MSU was predicted to make the FF by 11 percent of brackets in the ESPN Tournament Challenge.
Izzo has his team playing great defense at the most important time of the year, surrendering a little more than 61 ppg in the tourney.
The Spartans are led by junior Cassius Winston, an AP first team All American who averaged almost 19 points on the season. Winston is putting up his season average in scoring through the first four games in the tournament.
Michigan State’s road to the Final Four:
Round of 64: vs. Bradley, 76-65
Round of 32: vs. Minnesota, 70-50
Round of 16: vs. LSU, 80-63
Round of 8: vs. Duke, 68-67
The Texas Tech Red Raiders (30-6) enter Minneapolis with probably the least well-known coach as well as the least known team.
Texas Tech was picked by 2 percent of the brackets to advance to the Final Four in the ESPN Tournament Challenge.
Red Raiders head coach Chris Beard is appearing in his first Final Four as well as the first in the program’s history.
Texas Tech is led by sophomore Jareett Culver, an AP second-team All American who averaged just under 19 points on the year.
Even though the Red Raiders have an All-American on their team, they are not known for their offensive prowess. Instead, Beard coached teams are defensive wizards. In the 2019 tournament, the Red Raiders are surrendering just 57 ppg.
Tech held opponents to just under 37 percent shooting from the field in the regular season — good enough for second in the nation, one spot ahead of the Spartans — their Final Four opponent.
Texas Tech was third in the nation in the regular season, surrendering 59 points per game to opponents.
Texas Tech’s road to the Final Four:
Round of 64: vs. Northern Kentucky, 72-57
Round of 32: vs. Buffalo, 78-58
Round of 16: vs, Michigan, 63-44
Round of 8: vs. Gonzaga, 75-69
Scouting report for matchup:
This game will be a tough watch, but the national champion will come out of this game. Both Izzo and Beard are known for being defensive masterminds and their teams play with a defensive grit and tenacity that has been missing in college basketball.
Both of these teams are not afraid to play an ugly low-scoring game.
And this is the path this Final Four game will end up taking.
This game will be close all throughout, but it will be because of stellar defense not because of great offense.
Izzo has the most at stake of any of the coaches in the Final Four because he knows if he wins a second national championship it will raise him up another level in the upper-echelon of coaches in college basketball history.
Izzo, 64, the oldest coach in Minneapolis, will not let what could be his last chance to be crowned champion slip through his finger tips.
Winston will carry the Spartans to the finish line, as he has done all this year, and the expert coaching moves by Izzo late in the game will be the story following the game.
Prediction: Michigan State 63, Texas Tech 59