March may be over but fear not basketball fans; the madness isn’t quite done yet. The Final Four tips off this weekend in Minneapolis and Skedline’s Michael Ranger and Aaron Ranson have their take and predictions on the two semifinal games. They also pick a tournament winner.
Virginia Cavaliers (1) vs. Auburn Tigers (5)
Saturday, April 6th 6:09pm
Michael Ranger: In a tournament that has been a bit short on upset wins, Auburn Tigers would be the team to pick for anyone looking for a Cinderella story. They have looked really good against the other powerhouse schools they’ve faced in this tournament. They haven’t lost a game since February. The Tigers definitely have momentum on their side as the school makes its first ever appearance in the Final Four.
Having said that, I think that the injury to forward Chuma Okeke will hurt them a lot against the Virginia Cavaliers. Okeke was a giant part of the Tigers Sweet Sixteen win against North Carolina before he went down. He had 20 points and 11 boards before he left the game late in the second half. A big part of Auburn’s game all year has been three-point shooting and rebounding, and Okeke does both well. Without him against Kentucky, the Tigers struggled more than usual with both. The Tigers only shot 30.4% from three and got beat on the boards 38-33.
They were still able to squeak by the Wildcats but Virginia is a different animal. The Cavaliers boast the best defense in the country and they have the big bodies to wreak havoc on the boards. Mamadi Diakite has been a force all tournament. Virginia may play at a slow pace but they still have a very efficient offense and I don’t think the undermanned Tigers will have enough to match the Number One seed Cavaliers.
Mike’s Pick: Virginia
Aaron Ranson: This game has a lot to like from a fan’s perspective. Pick your poison, the redemption story or the Cinderella story? Virginia was of course the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed in the history of the tournament last year. That loss has clearly not been forgotten as the Cavaliers breezed to the Elite Eight with little to no trouble. However, that Elite Eight game was a completely different story. If it weren’t for Mamadi Diakite’s buzzer beating layup against Purdue to force overtime, Virginia wouldn’t even have gotten the chance to compete this weekend in Minneapolis.
Mike talks about Auburn not being able to overcome the elite defense and rebounding that Virginia brings into the Final Four. The Tigers have done nothing but overcome the odds to get to this point. Three of the four games Auburn has played so far have been against the perennial giants of college basketball. Kansas fell in the round of 32, North Carolina fell in the Sweet Sixteen and Kentucky fell in the Elite Eight, Virginia is simply the next to fall.
Mike also talks about the loss of Chuma Okeke in the North Carolina game — just another obstacle to be overcome in this Hollywood-esque storyline the Tigers have created. He talks about being beat on the boards, 38-33, but if big man Austin Wiley hadn’t gotten into foul trouble early, I think that number would’ve skewed the way of the Tigers.
What Mike doesn’t talk about, however, is how much trouble Virginia had containing the electric offense of Purdue guard Carson Edwards. Edwards almost single-handedly willed the Boilermakers past the Cavaliers in a 42 point performance that Virginia had no answer to. Now tell me, how is Virginia coach Tony Bennett planning on containing two dangerous guards in Auburn’s Jared Harper and Bryce Brown? If Auburn can get their guards going early to disrupt Virginia defensively, this game could turn into a shootout. If that happens, Auburn has the clear advantage.
Aaron’s Pick: Auburn
Michigan State Spartans (2) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders (3)
Saturday, April 6th 8:49pm
Aaron Ranson: Michigan State has maintained a consistent game plan throughout the tournament so far, using big men Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman to collect rebounds and get the ball to Cassius Winston. Winston has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Spartans in every game thus far. If it weren’t for his double-double performance against Duke in the Elite Eight, you’d be reading about Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett right now. But you aren’t and if the Red Raiders can’t shut Winston down they’ll be watching Monday’s National Championship game from home just like Duke.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, their consistent game plan plays right into Texas Tech’s strategy. The Red Raiders have excelled in shutting down opposing teams stars all tournament. Texas Tech sliced their way through Nick Perkins and the Buffalo Bulls. They diced their way through Brandon Clarke and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. They did this using stingy defense and a well-balanced offensive attack.
Texas Tech creates turnovers like a bakery near Christmas. If you want turnovers off steals, or turnovers off offensive rebounds or turnovers off miscommunication, hell I’m sure even if you wanted an apple turnover, these Red Raiders would find a way to make it happen and make you pay for it. Match that defense with future top 5 pick to the NBA Jarrett Culver and you have a recipe for success. Unless Cassius Winston can figure out how to penetrate this talented defense, it’s going to be a long night for the Spartans and their fans.
Aaron’s Pick: Texas Tech
Michael Ranger: I’d love to eviscerate Aaron’s pick here much like he did to mine in the first game. Unfortunately I agree with most everything he said. I do have to say that Michigan State has looked great in their four wins in this tournament. They breezed through the first three rounds and then knocked off the number one and most talented team in the nation in a tight game in the Elite Eight. But the Spartans have yet to meet a defense like the one they will face on Saturday night.
Michigan State turns the ball over a lot. They also struggle at forcing turnovers. As Aaron mentioned that will be a detrimental combo against a Red Raiders defense that forces turnovers on 23% of opposing possessions. Both Gonzaga and Buffalo, two of the better offensive teams in the country, had absolutely no answer for the suffocating Red Raiders defense.
Texas Tech also has the luxury of having the best player left in the tournament. Sophomore and future NBA lottery pick Jarrett Culver has been great on both sides of the ball. He’s been a huge part of the team’s excellent defensive play. On the other end he has averaged 21.5 points and 4.5 assists throughout the tournament.
Mike’s Pick: Texas Tech
Mike’s Pick: I picked Virginia to win it all in my bracket but I’ve been really impressed with what Texas Tech has been able to do in this tournament. Despite the Red Raiders looking dominant I’m going to roll with the Cavaliers to complete the redemption arc after getting eliminated in the first round of the tournament last year.
Aaron’s Pick: My bracket has been decimated ever since the LSU Tigers lost in the Sweet Sixteen. So that being said I have no personal bias in my decision for the winner. After watching every game this March, and of course the old adage that defense wins championships, my pick is the Texas Tech Red Raiders.