Kentucky (AK): Larry Brown said they would be in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, so there is that. I do disagree one hundred percent, but it was said. Kentucky is the obvious favorite in the final four. They are the most efficient team defensively in college basketball and second in opponents points per game. They also end 13% of their defensive possessions with a blocked shot. Their second team has multiple first round draft picks and their guards are the size of most teams small forwards, just ask Notre Dame. There is a reason the 38-0 going into the semi-finals and it isn’t because they out coach teams (Sorry, you just can’t sell me on Calipari for anything. The guy has a history of winning, before leaving a program right before the NCAA sanctions start rolling in). They are a tough matchup for any team because of the talent, size, and depth they bring to the floor.
Wisconsin (AK): This may not be the Wisconsin team of old. They do not run that grind it out pace that the Big Ten has been known for. Wisconsin is 6th is average scoring margin, proving they can play offense and defense, and lead the nation in offensive efficiency. Sam Dekker may be one of the most underrated players left in the tournament and if you have watched any college basketball this season you know about Frank Kaminsky. The two have combined for 55% of Wisconsin’s points in the tournament thus far and will take much the same to beat Kentucky. One thing to watch out for; the badgers are third in the country in defensive rebounding and Kentucky is number five in offensive rebounding, this game may be won on the boards.
Duke (SM): Duke is a four man team (Okafor, Winslow, Cook, and Jones.) They have about three guys (Jefferson, Allen, and Plumlee) that fill the fifth man role. In order for Duke to advance and have a shot at the title, they will need their Quartet, if you will, to play well. Here is a breakdown of those four guys:
- Jahlil Okafor is the most skilled big man in the country. He will need to be dominant on the offensive end and protect the paint for Duke to win.
- Justise Winslow has proven that he will (and should) be a top 5 pick in the draft. He has shot well and shown he is a James Harden/Dwyane Wade type guy that will be coveted by many NBA teams.
- Quinn Cook is Mr. Clutch. He will lock down your best guard and he will crush your spirit with a 3-pointer at some point in the game. When the lights are brightest, Cook shines. He does not have a promising NBA career in front of him, so look for him to give this game against MSU his all.
- Tyus Jones has had his ups and downs this year. There is no denying that he feeds off of Cook. The clutch gene and the fighter instinct that Cook brings to the big games has rubbed off on the freshman from Minnesota. Jones is small, but has proven he is not afraid to attack the rim.
Where Duke still needs to prove themselves is on the defensive end. Can Okafor protect the rim? Can they withstand a well balanced Michigan State team? We will see.
Michigan State (SM): Tom. Izzo. Seven Final Fours, with one lonely championship. The dude gets to Indianapolis. One knock against Izzo could be the seven Final Four appearances have only translated to one championship. The flipside to that would be that Izzo does more with less than any coach in the country. The Spartans are hot right now. Their last loss came in overtime of the Big Ten championship to fellow Final Four team, Wisconsin. Which, as far as losses go, is a GREAT loss. I view Wisconsin as being a better team than Duke. Now, Duke did beat Wisconsin in the regular season, but we are not in the regular season anymore. Player breakdown:
- Travis Trice has been playing great in the tournament. The confidence he has going in to the Final Four is exactly the reason they are there in the first place. In order for the Spartans to advance, Trice will need to get in the paint. Early and often.
- Denzel Valentine can stretch the floor. I think of him as a mix between Draymond Green and Danny Green. The size of Draymond, with a knack for hitting three’s like Danny. He will need to get hot early to put the pressure on the Blue Devils.
- Branden Dawson is a coaches best friend. He can lock down the other teams best player and get it done on the offensive end as well. The Dawson-Winslow matchup will be fun to watch.
Final Four: Our Predictions
AK: These will likely be unpopular picks but I am ok with that. I have said all year that Kentucky would lose a game. I guess this gives me two to choose from. I think Wisconsin does everything well that Kentucky struggles with. To me, Wisconsin is a taller more skilled version of Notre Dame. Kentucky gave up 20 points to Zach Auguste. Now, they go against possible player of the year in Frank Kaminsky. I think the Badgers win and a big reason is their ability to keep Kentucky off the line. Wisconsin is tops in the country in fouls per game. – 65-62 Badgers
In the other semi-final I pick Michigan State. I am a Carolina fan so I will never pick Duke to win a game this important. I do have some other reasons, but that is most important. Michigan State has nothing to lose. They will out physical Duke and for once this season, when Tyus Jones flies all over the floor looking like a European soccer star, it will actually be because someone is touching him. Michigan State has opponents shooting around the 20% mark from three-point range in the tournament and Duke relies heavily on that. Okafor will get his, but Branden Dawson can match up with Justise Winslow, who I believe is Dukes most important player going forward.
- 67-61 Fighting Izzo’s.
Wisconsin will be cutting down the nets in 2015. Too much Dekker and Kaminsky for the Spartans. Nigel Hayes will have a huge game and be Final 4 M.O.P. The only chance Michigan State has in this game is to run and get to the free throw line. Wisconsin does a great job not fouling, as mentioned above, and I think that will make it hard on the Spartans. Not saying they don’t have a chance, but it would take a monumental effort from Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine, and Travis Trice. I have Wisconsin 66-59.
SM: Kentucky vs. Wisconsin: Karl Anthony-Towns will prove he is the #1 pick in the draft. The tripod of Towns, Cauley Stein, and Johnson will keep the Badgers away from the rim, which is not the end of the world for the Badgers. The matchup of the game is Lyles-Dekker. Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky has been subpar the last couple games and Dekker has stepped up to fill that void. The Badgers will need a BIG game from Nigel Hayes to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season. I do not believe this will happen. The Harrison’s will come to play, Booker will hit a couple threes, and the Tripod will get enough offensive rebounds for the Wildcats to advance to the championship. Dirty Cal and the Boys win 64-58.
Duke vs. Michigan State: Jahlil Okafor will need to be double teamed in the post. This will cause lanes for Jones, Cook, and Winslow. This will allow for open threes as well. Even if Dawson limits Winslow I think Duke is too dynamic for the Spartans. Michigan State will need a BIG game from Denzel Valentine to hang with the Blue Devils. Cook is going to limit Trice, which will end the Spartans season. Blue Devils win 76-65.
Kentucky vs. Duke: This will be the most watched game in college basketball history. For all the talk of how men’s ball has slowed down and is behind the times, this game will not disappoint. It has the matchup of the two best freshman big guys and that will have people glued to their TV. Kentucky is huge. Duke’s guards are tiny. Okafor and Winslow will be a two man show for the Dukies. Kentucky will grab too many offensive rebounds for the Blue Devils to handle. Kentucky wins 73-60 and completes the perfect season of 40-0.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Sideline SmackTalk