The four remaining teams in college basketball’s best tournament are gearing up for the Final Four showdown in Indianapolis. Three of the four remaining teams in the Final Four matchup could have been predicted by college basketball followers. Being a No. 7 seed entering the tournament, East Regional champions Michigan State are the only evident shocker left standing. College basketball aficionados could have anticipated the other three No. 1 seeds remaining: Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky. If you are hesitant with where to place your bets or simply curious about what to expect in college basketball’s finale weekend, here is a prediction of the 2015 Final Four.
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Duke:
Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans have had a dramatic ride to the Final Four, playing some of their best basketball down the stretch. There is a Michigan State T-shirt for sale that reads, "January. February. Izzo. April." Tom Izzo is a methodological and experienced leader when it comes to making magic happen in March. Although the Spartans are the clear underdog in the Final Four, it would be an exaggeration to call Tom Izzo’s squad the dark horse of the tournament. When asked about being the underdog of this matchup, junior guard Denzel Valentine replied, "You can kind of say yes and kind of say no." With a win against Louisville in the Elite Eight, Izzo clinched his seventh trip to the Final Four. The Michigan State coach has led his Spartans to the NCAA tournament ever year since 1998. Tom Izzo is no joke when the madness begins in March and the 2015 NCAA Tournament has been no exception. However, all this having been said, it is now safe to bet against Tom Izzo. The Final Four has proved to be the speed bump The Spartans cannot cruise through. Since their National Championship victory in 2000, the Spartans have gone 1-5 on the season's final weekend.
The safer bet for this matchup are the Duke Blue Devils headed by Hall of Fame Coach Mike Krzyzewski and freshman superstar and ACC Player of the Year Jahlil Okafor. Michigan State simply does not have an interior player with the size that can match up against Okafor. The Spartans front court is comprised of Gavin Schilling, Brandon Dawson, and Matt Costello. Schilling and Costello are both listed at 6'9" and Dawson is just 6’6". If the Spartans decide to double-team the 6’11 center, opportunities are left open for arguably two of the best backcourt players in the country: Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook. The Blue Devils also add in the underrated support from freshman Justise Winslow, who has provided reliable support throughout the tournament by grabbing rebounds on the glass and leading fast break surges.
However, Michigan Sate does have something Duke doesn’t: experience. Tom Izzo rotates mostly junior and senior players, while Duke has just one senior and Coach Mike Krzyzewski starts three freshman. Ten different players have started at least one game for the Spartans, and Izzo likes to utilize his extended bench. With only eight scholarship players on the roster, Coach K does not have this luxury.
On November 18th, the Spartans faced Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic. On April 4th, the Spartans will face Duke in the national semifinals. Tom Izzo has led his squad from a "pretty solid" season in the Big Ten with a record of 26-11 to a comeback route headed for the finale of college basketball in Indianapolis. We can expect to see two of college basketball’s greatest coaches showcasing their experience and presenting their teams in a competitive, close Final Four matchup.
The top seed will move on in this one, though. Led by experienced senior and playmaker Quinn Cook and fellow freshman guard Tyus Jones, the Blue Devils backcourt will look inside to first-team All-American big man Jahlil Okafor to utilize the size differential between the Spartans and the Blue Devils. When Okafor needs help, freshman forward Justise Winslow will provide an energy boost on the offensive front. Arguably however, the fate of this 40 minute matchup rests on the shoulders of 19 year old Okafor. In order for Duke to pull out the W, he will have to play like you would expect an NBA lottery pick to play.
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Kentucky:
With each win, the Kentucky Wildcats continue to write history and attract the spotlight to their season. The Kentucky Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers will face off in the Final Four for the second straight season. Last year, Andrew Harrison drained a game-winning three in the final seconds to lead the Kentucky Wildcats to the 74-73 victory. The Wisconsin Badgers are well-prepared and qualified to give this Kentucky club a run for their money. Revenge is one of the best motivators, right?
This year's Wildcats have been the clear and projected pick for the national title since the beginning of the season. The talented Kentucky squad enters the Final Four 38-0, undefeated against all opponents this season. This 2014-2015 Kentucky crew is the first power-conference team to go undefeated in the regular season since Indiana’s 1976 team. Did I mention that that very Indiana Hoosiers team concluded their season with a national title? The experts are right in their prediction of Kentucky as the winner of this star-studded matchup. The bench depth and size of these Wildcats are as extraordinary as any college basketball squad we have seen in decades.
Don’t consider this game a done-deal for John Calipari’s Kentucky team, however. This storybook season isn’t over until the nets are cut down. Calipari and his players will have to construct a game-plan on how to deal with National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and 6’9" forward Sam Dekker. Kaminsky is an experienced senior in the tournament and has created a matchup problem for almost every team the Badgers have faced this season. His size and strength in the interior post position gives him the ability to score against smaller defenders, yet his ability to dribble and drive presents a problem for bigger defenders. In addition, Dekker was the all-star in the Badgers victory over the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite Eight, scoring 27 points and showing off his tournament experience.
Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, listed at 7’0", has the interior size as well as athletic ability to be a tough matchup against Kaminsky. Cauley-Stein is a defensive monster on the interior possessing the lateral quickness of a guard. If, by some odds, Cauley-Stein gets into foul trouble, Hall of Fame finalist coach John Calipari can pull from three other bench options 6’9" or taller to offer good post position against Kaminsky. 260-pound center Dakari Johnson is nearly 7-feet tall and will provide a good water break for Cauley-Stein, without Calipari having to worry about a Kaminsky scoring run. Possibly one of the biggest perks of Kentucky’s size is their domination on the glass. Another key asset for this superstar Kentucky squad is Karl-Anthony Towns, who is undoubtedly the size of an NBA center and averages 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes.
With Kentucky’s ability to control the glass and shut down, or at least minimize, the talent of Frank Kaminsky, the Wildcats should be able to move on to NCAA championship game. Anything less than a national title would be a disappointment for this star-studded Wildcats team and the University of Kentucky. Unless the Wisconsin Badgers have an exceptionally high three-point percentage, I see this one going to the talent, skill, and experience of Kentucky.