Final Four Preview
By James Mueller ’19 (AJ Cassapo ‘19, Adian Guevara ‘20, Corlan Joubert ‘20, and Trey Duncan ‘21 contributed to this article.)
With the Final Four taking place this weekend, I have ranked the remaining teams, listing their strengths and weaknesses and what teams must do to beat them:
4. Virginia Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are the only number-one seed remaining, and their success starts on the defensive end. They are ranked fifth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and play tight defense, leaving very little gap room between them and the player they are guarding, which makes it hard for offenses to get to the paint. On offense, the Cavaliers don’t play with a lot of pace and use most of the shot clock on every possession. Veteran guard Kyle Guy is a great shooter and although he has struggled from three in this tournament, he heated up in the Elite Eight hitting 5 three pointers in his 25 point performance against the Purdue Boilermakers. Guy is also great without the ball, constantly moving around making it hard for defenders to guard him. Virginia also has weapons in Ty Jerome, who is a veteran player and decent three point shooter, and potential top ten NBA draft pick DeAndre Hunter, who has good size and the ability to create his own shot. To beat the Cavaliers, teams must knock down threes and force Virginia to pick up the pace offensively.
3. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Chris Beard preaches defense to his team and as a result the Red Raiders are the best defensive team in the country. They rank number one in adjusted defensive efficiency, number three in two point percentage defense, and number nine in three point percentage defense. In the NCAA Tournament the Red Raiders have held their opponents to 57 points per game and are forcing 16 turnovers per game. Offensively, the Red Raiders are not as consistent, but they have one of the biggest breakout stars and future NBA lottery pick in sophomore guard Jarrett Culver who is averaging 21.5 points per game in the tournament. Other offensive threats include guard Matt Mooney who is averaging 12 points per game in the tournament and is great at creating shots for teammates, especially when he gets into the paint, and Davide Moretti who is a good three point shooter. To beat the Red Raiders, teams must spread the floor and move the ball offensively instead of settling for quick shots. Defensively, teams must force the Red Raiders to play in the half court instead of letting them get out in transition where they get a lot of easy buckets.
2. Auburn Tigers
Auburn is the hottest team in college basketball right now. The Tigers have won 12 straight including the SEC Tournament and wins over historically basketball powerhouse schools Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. If there’s one thing teams should know about the Tigers it is that they can shoot. The Tigers are averaging 85 points per game and shooting almost 40% from three in the tournament, averaging 12 made threes a game. They are led by Bryce Brown who is averaging 18 points per game and shooting 46.87% from three in the tournament and Jared Harper who is averaging 17.5 points and 6.5 assists in the tournament. Although Auburn is not the most consistent defensively sound team, they are number one in the country in defensive turnover rate and steal percentage and make teams pay for their mistakes. To beat the Tigers, teams must not allow Auburn to get out in transition but rather make them play in the half court and run them off the three point line and force them to take contested two-point shots. Teams should also take advantage of the absence of 6’8 forward Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL against North Carolina, and look to use their size in the paint when looking to score and also crashing the glass.
1. Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans have the best and most unselfish point guard in the country in Cassius Winston. Winston is averaging 19 points and 8 assists per game in the tournament and has shot over 40% from three on the season. While Winston is always a consistent offensive threat, Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman give the Spartans a post presence and Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins are threats shooting from deep. The Spartans are also the most unselfish team in the country, ranking number one in assist rate. Defensively, the Spartans make it hard to get to the rim and rank number two in two point percentage defense. In order to beat the Spartans, teams must do three things really well: First, they must crash the boards because the Spartans are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Second, teams need to get back on defense because the Spartans, specifically Cassius Winston, a top NBA prospect in the 2019 draft, are really good in transition and pushing the pace offensively. Finally, teams must push the ball down the court to not allow the Spartans to set up their defense and knock down some perimeter shots since it is very difficult to score in the paint against the Spartans.