College basketball is ready to celebrate the last four teams standing in the NCAA tournament in its final weekend of play in Indianapolis. This season’s Final Four consists of two great matchups with four historically great teams and four of the best coaches in all of the sport ready to battle for a chance at the national championship. Duke and its trio of freshman stars are going to take on the surprise veteran laden seventh seed in Michigan State, while Wisconsin will try to be the first team all year to knock off the undefeated Wildcats of Kentucky.
1 Duke vs. 7 Michigan State
The Blue Devils come into this matchup playing perhaps the best basketball of any team in the tournament. It can be argued that their road to final four may have been the easiest of any of the teams left, they have also made easy work of each opponent in the process. Their most impressive victory came in the Elite Eight over the two seed Gonzaga who made some runs but when Duke needed it most they were able to lock the Bulldogs down on defense as well as score very well through Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. The victory over Gonzaga was even more impressive because of how Jahlil Okafor was neutralized but the Blue Devils still made easy work of a very well coached team.
Duke has the advantage of extreme balance especially on offense. Jahlil Okafor is one of the most impressive inside scorers college basketball has seen in some time, but he is balanced out by the great guard and wing play of Jones, Winslow, Quinn Cook and the improving Matt Jones. Michigan State will need an extremely impressive defensive performance from their big men in Branden Dawson and Matt Costello, because their guards can possibly neutralize Duke’s guards considering how great of a tournament Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine have been having.
Michigan State are the most unlikely team left in this tournament as a seven seed, but most people know not to bet against coach Tom Izzo come tournament time and he has proven himself again leading this team to his seventh Final Four appearance. Even though on paper Duke are the heavy favorites it is hard to see this game not coming down to the final seconds. The two teams met in November and Duke won 81-71 but these are two completely different teams now both have improved greatly.
Look for this game to be very back and forth with a lot of lead changes. This game will seemingly go as Okafor goes because Michigan State really do not have an answer for his size and scoring ability around the rim. If he gets going early the Spartans may have a hard time staying in it, but if they can get some stops on the big man or get him into foul trouble Duke could be the team needing to fight back. The play of Justise Winslow will also be a huge factor as he has been possibly the best player in the tournament so far. This game will be very close in the end and may even be a game that needs overtime to decide a winner. Prediction: Duke wins in a very close game.
1 Kentucky vs. 1 Wisconsin
Kentucky have been the story of this entire college basketball season, and rightly so, as they look to become the first team to go through an entire season undefeated since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. The Wildcats are currently 38-0 and are coming off their closest call a 68-66 victory over Notre Dame. In the final minutes Kentucky and especially Karl-Anthony Towns flexed their muscle on both offense and defense shutting down the Irish who had been basically scoring at will on them for the first 35 minutes of the game. Kentucky may have gotten lucky with the final foul call as Andrew Harrison really just barreled into the defender completely out of control, but they got the call and live to fight another day.
Wisconsin probably had the most impressive victory in the Elite Eight beating a very talented Arizona team handily on the backs of Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky and an unbelievable second half three-point shooting performance. Many experts have stated that they believe this Badgers team is one of only a few teams even capable of beating Kentucky and now the veteran group will get their chance. Coach Bo Ryan will surely have noted that Notre Dame’s plan of their offense being the best way to defend against Kentucky, and that plan will suit his team as they are extremely talented offensively.
Wisconsin may have to approach this game differently than they have other games before this one because Kentucky have the defenders to take away their star in Frank Kaminsky. Though Kaminsky may not be as athletic as the Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky he is very smart and will find ways to score even with Kentucky’s ability to limit teams around the hoop. Kentucky will need to find ways to score which has been a struggle at times for them because Wisconsin are also very disciplined on defense and do not allow easy buckets.
This matchup will be extremely interesting because it has the best defensive team in Kentucky against the best offensive team in Wisconsin. Kentucky has a size, athleticism and depth advantage and while the Badgers have all those aspects as well they just do not have them at the level the Wildcats do. Prediction: Kentucky pulls away late to go to 39-0.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Photo Courtesy of Telwink – Creativecommons Flickr License