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Bracket Bits: Ranking the Final Four

Dave2015We’ve reached Minneapolis.  The Final Four includes a Blue Blood in Michigan State, a pair of newbies in Texas Tech and Auburn, and a team trying to rewrite its own NCAA history book in Virginia.

With top seeds Duke, Gonzaga, and North Carolina dispatched, UVA arrives in the Twin Cities as the only No. 1 seed still standing.  Does that make the Cavaliers the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night?  Not necessarily.

Although this year’s Final Four may lack some traditional name power, it shouldn’t lack for drama – and certainly not for storylines.  How would you rank the Final Four?  Here’s my best attempt as tip-off nears on Saturday evening.

  1. Michigan State – Tom Izzo has said a second National Championship would validate his career.  In my humble opinion, he needs no such additional hardware, but that’s a story for another day.  What Izzo has right now is a team that fits his personality – toughness on all fronts: physical and mental.  The Spartans lack an NBA headliner, but they arrive on a nine-game winning streak that includes victories over No. 2 seed Michigan (B10 tourney), this year’s SEC regular-season champion, LSU, and, of course, the No. 1 overall seed, Duke.  MSU may fall short, but if I’m forced to pick a favorite, I’ll take the Spartans.
  2. Texas Tech – The Red Raiders are a close second, meaning I think the winner of MSU-Texas Tech game has an edge in Monday’s title game, regardless of whether that be Virginia or Auburn.  In full disclosure, TTU is playing its best basketball at the right time, having dominated Buffalo and Michigan before clipping top-seeded Gonzaga in the West Region final.  Jarrett Culver is an NBA talent surrounded by capable role players who commit to defense like nobody’s business.  The Red Raiders have yet to yield 70 points in this year’s NCAA tourney.
  3. Virginia – It’s all about redemption for the Cavaliers, who made history last season by becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever lose an opening round game to a 16-seed.  Now that they’ve reached the Final Four, they can rewrite the history books in grand fashion, closing out a comeback story that ends with a national title.  If you’re someone who believes in destiny, then UVA might be your choice; the Cavaliers’ miraculous finish against Purdue would qualify as an event in which the ball literally bounced the right way.
  4. Auburn – If it weren’t for the injury to Chuma Okeke, the Tigers might be favored. Their route to Minneapolis included victories over Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky.  Furthermore, has any team been hotter or more clutch (and, yes, a little lucky against New Mexico State) than Auburn the past three weeks?  The Tigers have been raining treys from Nashville to Salt Lake to Kansas City.  At the same time, Okeke was a do-everything guy whose absence will be felt on both ends of the court.  The galvanized Tigers survived Kentucky without him, but another two games against top-flight competition?  If Bruce Pearl’s bunch pulls it off, they’ll have answered every doubter and then some.

We’ve made it to Minneapolis.  Enjoy the Final Four.

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