This year’s Final Four is set, and there is nothing maddening about it.
The last four teams in this year’s dance have proven that each belongs in the national title discussion despite the different roads taken to get there.
Kentucky. The team that has been in the front of everyone’s minds for months now has made it to college basketball’s biggest stage. The 38 wins and zero losses put added pressure on the Wildcats as they approach their ultimate goal: perfection.
One thing sets them above the fray and has helped them remain unbeaten all year. That asset is Kentucky’s depth. No other team in the country has as much talent – a second string that’s almost as good as the first.
Notre Dame showed us that Kentucky is beatable, but can Wisconsin do the trick?
The Badgers are in the semifinals thanks largely to outstanding play from forwards Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. In order to win, they must take advantage of their two big weapons and have a terrific day shooting the basketball from all ranges, as they did when knocking Arizona out of the Elite Eight.
But in the end, they will fall short.
Prediction: Kentucky 78, Wisconsin 70
Next we have the more intriguing matchup of the two, Michigan State vs. Duke.
Michigan State is the only one of the Final Four that might be considered a surprise, as a 7 seed. Strangely underrated by the selection committee, the Spartans are always a threat to win, with one of the sport’s most respected coaches, Tom Izzo.
And they have heated up at the right time. As we saw last year with UCONN, momentum is an extremely valuable advantage in the NCAA Tournament.
Izzo and the Spartans have been in this position before. In fact, this is their seventh appearance in the Final Four. They will not back down to their more talented opponent, Duke.
The Blue Devils have had an historic year. Mike Krzyzewski is the winningest coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball, finally surpassing 1,000 wins this season.
This didn’t happen by accident. Jahlil Okafor, despite being the most nationally recognized, is not the only supremely talented player Coach K has. Quinn Cook is the experienced senior surrounded by exceptionally capable freshmen in Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow.
Winslow has had a strong tournament and has been a difference-maker for Duke down the stretch. I personally watched Justise Winslow compete in high school in Houston and know first-hand the caliber of player he is.
The Blue Devils have had their shortcomings on defense this season. But they have tightened up, not allowing more than 57 points in any game in the NCAA Tournament.
My Prediction: Duke 64, Michigan State 62
I couldn’t have asked for a better Final Four this year, but it takes more than guts to remain standing after the final two rounds.
Kentucky and Duke have the depth to make it into the championship game, and that’s exactly what I have them doing.