In the Final Four of the 2015 tournament, we have three number one seeds: Kentucky of the SEC, Duke of the ACC, Wisconsin of the Big Ten. The fourth team, Michigan State, also of the Big Ten, are a surprising number seven seed.
Favored all season long to make it to the Final Four and win it all, Kentucky are now 38-0 with two games to go; Wisconsin, and if they get past the Badgers, it’ll be either Duke or Michigan State.
Kentucky are judged and viewed under a different set of glasses. They don’t have, and don’t need, one star to carry them. They have five or six players who could have been starring on a “normal” college team, but John Calipari convinced a lot of guys to stay another year in order to improve their draft stock, resulting in the “supergroup” of college basketball.
Their two point win over Notre Dame was their first win by less than 10 points in March 3. Maybe it says something about their vulnerability, but it just might have been a one time thing, and it can motivate them to put on a show like they did against West Virginia, winning by 39 points in the Sweet Sixteen.
Duke Blue Devils
After four seasons that included two round of 64 exits, Duke are back in the Final Four, the 12th under Coach K and 16th overall. It’s a team based on freshmen, a trio of them to be exact: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. Okafor was pegged as the elite one of the bunch, but he has his bad days, yet Duke have the depth, talent and even defense to work through it.
Their 14-point win over Gonzaga came thanks to a dominant five-minute finish and crunch on defense. They struggled against Utah but flourished in the wins over San Diego State and Robert Morris, enjoying the easier part of the brackets, which just makes it easier for people to hate them more.
Their next opponents are Michigan State, a team Duke has already beaten this season (81-71). But Izzo teams are very different in March compared to mid-November, and have the coaching, intelligence and will to make up for what they lack in talent.
A second consecutive Final Four for the Badgers, once again pitted against Kentucky, the team they lost to last season at the semifinal. Wisconsin had to go through Oregon with Joseph Young, a difficult North Carolina team and a very good Arizona team, making them the most battle tested of the elite group making it this far.
They have two stars in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, two players who can score from anywhere on the floor. Statistically, this is the best offense still in the tournament, but their lack of depth compared to Kentucky, not to mention athleticism and speed, is going to make it very difficult to create a #1 over #1 upset.
Michigan State Spartans
For a 7th time in 20 years, Tom Izzo has taken Michigan State to the Final Four. Not for the first time, he has done it without a very promising seed (#7). Nothing has gone easy for them in the tournament; a seven point win over Georgia, a six point win over Virginia, four point win over Oklahoma and an overtime win against Louisville.
Michigan State can feel good about one fact: They’ve only lost to one team in March, Wisconsin (twice). Aside from that, including in the conference tournament final, they’ve beaten everyone, looking resourceful at every twist and turn, although their most difficult challenges still await them.