Final Four Preview

25 Final Fours. 6 national titles. And nearly 3,000 wins. Those are some of the accomplishments attained by the head coaches of the teams in this year’s Final Four.  Bo Ryan, a 4-time Division III tournament champion with small-school Wisconsin-Platteville, is the only coach in this field to have never won a Division I title.  Tom Izzo, in his 20th year as head coach at Michigan St., served as author to the Spartans’ title run in 2000, which spawned NBAers Jason Richardson, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and Andre Hutson.  Kentucky’s John Calipari is looking to win his second national title, winning one with the ‘Cats in 2012 in New Orleans.  And Mike Krzyzewski, one of the greatest basketball coaches to ever live, will be seeking his 5th national title in his record-tying 12th Final Four, tying John Wooden for most all-time.  Here, I break down the bracket and see how each team wins and divulge my predictions. Michigan St. vs. Duke, April 4, 6:09 PM, TBS How Michigan St. Wins They get out and run.  In their four tournament games thus far, Sparty is +13 in fast break points.  They scored more fast break points than their opponents in each game they played in every game except for their Elite 8 tilt against Louisville, where they were -6.  Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine combine for 40 points, like they have in each of their tournament wins so far.  Sparty’s bigs are too much for Duke’s small starting lineup, and Dawson is able to get whatever he wants offensively.  Bryn Forbes and Marvin Clark Jr. help spread the floor with 3-point shooting, opening up room for springy bigs Matt Costello, Dawson and Gavin Schilling to run the baseline and get easy baskets.  Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn provides energy and solid defense at the point, guarding Tyus Jones and/or Quinn Cook. In alignment with my first point, they score more than 70 points; they are 19-4 when scoring as such this season. How Duke Wins They slow down the pace and allow their offense to run time off the clock; the game is in the mid-60s.  Justise Winslow leads the team in scoring as he has the last two games.  Matt Jones shoots with the same level of effectiveness as he did against Gonzaga; he is also able to effectively guard Denzel Valentine on the perimeter.  Duke wins the battle of guard play, as Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones outplay Trice and Nairn on both ends.  Michigan St. overcompensates for the impact of Jahlil Okafor, leaving perimeter shooters Jones, Jones, Cook, Winslow, and Grayson Allen open to make plenty of threes (long-held opinion of mine: defenses should let Okafor get whatever he wants inside.  It’s harder to guard Duke’s three-point shooters than its one dominant post player.).  Finally, big man Amile Jefferson gives the Blue Devils a spark off the bench, causing foul trouble for the Spartans, and Marshall Plumlee comes off the bench to give Okafor a blow at certain junctures.   Michigan St. comes to play, but Duke defends the transition game well enough to survive. Prediction: Duke 67, Michigan St. 61 Kentucky vs. Wisconsin, April 4, 40 Minutes After Conclusion of First Game, TBS How Wisconsin Wins They allow their methodical, uberefficient offense to slice and dice Kentucky for 40 minutes.  Sam Dekker and likely Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky each score 20 points.  This allows more open shots for Nigel Hayes, Josh Gasser, and Bronson Koenig.  Bucky’s myriad of three-point shooters (literally, everyone) spreads Kentucky’s dominant big men outside the paint, allowing for easier drives to the basket and points inside.  Wisconsin shoots over 50% from three, and they make at least ten baskets from deep.  Defensively, they don’t allow Kentucky to get open, perimeter shots.  Hayes and Kaminsky are able to hold their own against Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns.  All-world glue player and defender Gasser defends either Harrison brother solidly, not allowing for alley-oops at the rim.  Finally, Duje Dukan provides three-point shooting off the pine and Traevon Jackson and Zac Showalter provide spurts of energy for the Badgers. How Kentucky Wins They play about as well as they possibly can.  Their depth and energy tires out the relatively thin Badgers, and they even run the floor for a few easy baskets in transition.  Karl-Anthony Towns plays with the same down-low effectiveness as he did in the last game against Notre Dame, and Willie Cauley-Stein plays with energy and effort on both ends.  Off the bench, Devin Booker provides shot-making and shot-creating ability and Tyler Ulis gives the ‘Cats energy on defense.  Ancillary big men Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee provide spring and energy, making Kaminsky and Hayes work for rebounds inside.  Andrew Harrison creates drive/kick-out action for, potentially, his brother Aaron, creating open threes and easy shots.  Kentucky even runs out in transition, and this sets up more easy baskets against the slower-playing Badgers. This game comes down to the wire, with the feeling of a national title game.  To use hoops terminology, this game is a jump ball.  It will be very similar to Duke-UNLV in 1991, but with a different final outcome. Prediction: Kentucky 72. Wisconsin 70