NCAAB: The “Big Dance” parties into the Final Four

Kevin Singhel, Staff Writer

March has ended, and as the calendar flips to April, the NCAA’s Final Four begins. The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament originally started with 68 teams, and after weeks of upsets, blowouts and buzzer-beaters, only four teams remain.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders were the first team to clinch a spot in the Final Four after knocking off top seeded Gonzaga and winning the West region on Saturday. This is the first Final Four in the program’s history, and the Red Raiders were able to accomplish this off the back of their amazing defense. 

Texas Tech, statistically, has the best defense in the country, and some experts argue that it may even be one of the best in NCAA history. The Red Raiders rode their defense to a share of the Big 12 regular season title, but some were worried after Texas Tech was upset by lowly West Virginia in the Big 12 conference tournament. 

Regardless, Texas Tech still earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and was given a first round matchup with No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky. Texas Tech’s stout defense held strong as the Red Raiders routed the Norsemen. In the second round they faced a No. 6 seeded Buffalo team that accrued over thirty wins throughout the season. The Red Raiders held Buffalo’s potent offense to only 58 points in a blowout victory.

More of the same occurred throughout the Sweet Sixteen, as their stifling defense held Michigan to just a measly 44 points. In their Elite Eight game against Gonzaga, Texas Tech was challenged for the first time in the tournament, but the Red Raiders were still able to punch their ticket to the Final Four with a 75-69 victory.

The Red Raiders find themselves in a tough matchup, as the Michigan State Spartans will be awaiting them in the Final Four after upsetting the No.1 overall seed Duke Blue Devils 68-67 on Sunday night. The Spartans have had an extremely successful season, winning a share of the Big Ten regular season title and dominating the Big Ten Conference Tournament. Michigan State entered the East region as the 2nd seed was a trendy pick to challenge Duke for a Final Four berth. 

However, Michigan State inspired little confidence in their fans after they struggled to put away the 15th seeded Bradley Bulldogs in the opening round. The Spartans were quick to right the ship as they dominated Big Ten rival Minnesota by twenty points in the next round.

During the Sweet Sixteen the Spartans clearly outclassed 3rd seeded LSU in an 80-63 before defeating Duke in an Elite Eight thriller. The Spartans are now marching on to the Final Four with loads of confidence.

Michigan State is an extremely balanced team that plays both ends of the floor well. They are loaded with talent and have a healthy dose of experience mixed in as well. In addition, the team is led by legendary coach Tom Izzo, a man famous for getting the most out of his team come tournament time. Michigan State’s’ success will hinge on Izzo’s ability to solve Texas Tech’s vaunted defense and design a game plan to create scoring opportunities. 

The Final Four matchup on the other side of the bracket features a team that not many expected to make it this far. The Auburn Tigers were able to shock the world and reach the final four as the 5th seed in their region. After a disappointing regular season that saw them finish just 5th in the SEC regular season standings, the Tigers reeled off an impressive SEC conference tournament run that was capped by a blowout victory over Tennessee in the finals. 

The Tigers entered the Midwest region as the No. 5 seed and were nearly upset in the first round. New Mexico State took Auburn down to the wire, but Auburn escaped with a one point victory after New Mexico State missed two out of three free throws with one second remaining. From that point on, Auburn reeled off three upsets of their own, taking down three of the NCAA’s blue bloods along the way. The Tigers destroyed the higher seeded Kansas Jayhawks as they dropped 89 points in a 14 point win during the round of 32. 

Auburn’s offensive explosion continued during the second weekend of the tournament as they scored 97 points in a shocking upset win against No.1 seeded North Carolina. However, everything wasn’t as perfect as it seemed for the Tigers as one of their top players Chuma Okeke, tore his ACL late in the game and will miss the remainder of the NCAA tournament. However, Auburn didn’t let the injury slow them down as they took down the Kentucky Wildcats in a 77-71 overtime victory in the Elite Eight.

Auburn is an extremely potent offensive team that is capable of sinking opponents with a barrage of three point shots. Even though they are missing Okeke, Auburn should not be taken lightly in the Final Four.

Opposite of Auburn in this Final Four matchup are the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia coach Tony Bennett has long prided himself on building a program around strong defense and solid fundamentals, and this year is no different. Virginia is all about slowing down the pace of the game and wearing down their opponents.

Unfortunately for Virginia, the results simply weren’t there last year, as they became the first ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. Virginia has spent their season trying to get over the embarrasing loss.

 The Cavaliers have redeemed themselves this year by winning a share of the stacked ACC regular season title. The Cavaliers were given a No.1 seed and slated for a first round matchup with 16th seeded Gardner-Webb. After a slow first half, Virginia was able to turn things around and dominate the rest of the game, avoiding another catastrophic upset. In the second round, Virginia was matched up with 9th seeded Oklahoma, although the game wasn’t as one sided as you would expect it. 

Virginia continued to have close games as they barely squeaked by 12th seeded Oregon by four points, and needed a buzzer-beater to force overtime in order to beat 3rd seeded Purdue in the Elite Eight. 

Virginia may have a tough time slowing down Auburn’s explosive offense, but their slow methodical play could also limit the number of possessions and scoring opportunities the Tigers have. In addition, Virgina has experience on the big stage and has already proven to be filled with clutch performers throughout the tournament. The Cavaliers have yet to allow more than 54 points in the tournament, so Auburn may not put up the big numbers that they have been accustomed to seeing over the past few weeks. This Final Four matchup highlights Auburn’s offense and Virginia’s defense.

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Kevin Singhel

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