The 2019 NCAA Tournament Final Four is almost here. Michigan State vs Texas Tech, Virginia vs Auburn. It’s time to meet the teams:
The third Final Four in school history, and a first since 1984; the Cavaliers have certainly put the embarrassing loss in the first round from last year behind them.
What did they do this season: Another regular season title in the ACC (2nd in a row, 4th since 2014), going 16-2 in conference play, their only losses coming against Duke, who luckily isn’t in the tournament anymore.
What did they do in the tournament: A #1 seed (one of 3 number one seeds from the ACC), it went pretty smoothly in the first weekend against Gardner-Webb and Oklahoma with double digit wins. Things got tricker in the Sweet 16 with a narrow win against Oregon, followed by an overtime classic against Purdue in the Elite Eight, winning 80-75.
Who’s the coach: Tony Bennett, who has the Cavaliers dominating the regular season for the last 6 years, and after mostly disappointing exists and struggling to create offense at the right time, has finally punched his ticket into college basketball’s premium weekend.
Star player: Kyle Guy, a Junior who struggled in the early goings of the tournament, but lived up to his leading man status in the win over Purdue, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Michigan State Spartans
Four years since the Spartans last made the Final Four and 10 years since the loss to North Carolina in the title game, fans are hoping that overcoming the Blue Devils signals that this is their year.
What did they do this season: Shared the Big Ten title with Purdue after going 16-4, a 2nd consecutive regular season title. They also won the conference tournament, and headed into the NCAA tournament with 10 wins in their last 11 games.
What did they do in the tournament: More of the same, beating Bradley and Minnesota in the opening weekend. The Sweet 16 against LSU (a 20-point win) was impressive. Their 1-point win over Duke was even more.
Who’s the coach: Tom Izzo. He’s been at the helm since 1995. A national champion with Michigan State in 2000, this is his 8th Final Four.
Star player: Cassius Winston (All-American). The Junior point guard has showed up big in the tournament to put a brilliant finishing touch on an equally brilliant season. He shined in the win over Duke with 20 points, 10 assists and 4 steals, not resting for a single second.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
The Chris Beard revolution continues, leading the Red Raiders to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
What did they do this season: Make history. Texas Tech finished 14-4 in the Big 12, winning the conference regular season title for the first time since 1996.
What did they do in the tournament: Been dominant, beating their first 3 opponents (Northern Kentucky, Buffalo and Michigan) by a combined 54 points. Things were more difficult vs Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, but they got through on a 75-69 win.
Who’s the coach: Chris Beard, in his 3rd season at Lubbock. He led the team to the Elite Eight (also a 1st for the school) last season, and he keeps pushing the boundaries further this season.
Star player: Jarrett Culver. This is his team, and the sophomore guard has really stepped up this season. He’s averaging 21.5 points in the tournament, including 41 combined vs Michigan and Gonzaga.
The other “football school” in the Final Four, also getting this far for the first time in program history.
What did they do this season: Go a respectable 11-7 in conference play, but winning the SEC tourney for the 1st time since 1985, and overall (including the NCAA tournament) going 11-0 in March.
What did they do in the tournament: Barely get by New Mexico State, but since then it’s been all about bashing the blue bloods, knocking off Kansas, #1 seed North Carolina and finally Kentucky (in overtime).
Who’s the coach: Bruce Pearl. This is what the Tigers dreamed of when they made the hire in 2014. It took him two seasons to turn things around, but the last 2 seasons have showed it’s worth it. Like the others except Izzo, it’s his first Final Four.
Star player: Bryce Brown/Jaret Harper. It’s a combo effort, especially after Chuma Okeke went down with an injury. The duo scored 50 of Auburn’s 77 points in the win over the Wildcats.