The Final Four
THE FINAL FOUR
The matchups are set ... the NCAA Tourney's Final 4 ain't what you thought it would be as there's just one #1 seed remaining (hello, Virginia) but there's plenty to say about the survivors:
#5 Midwest: AUBURN (30-9) - The Southeastern Conference has one team in this Final Four but it's not the one you thought it would be at the start of this "Big Dance (see Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU?) but it is the one that fought the hardest the first four games of their tourney. Bruce Pearl's crew didn't have much success from downtown in Sunday's wild 77-71 overtime win against 4.5-point favorite Kentucky as War Eagle canned just 7-of-23 triple tries but all-guts/all b-ball IQ point guard Jared Harper (26 points / 5 assists) made so many positive plays that it kept the Tigers afloat. Now, we'll see if the absence of Chuma Okeke (knee / out for year) will be felt come Final Four time or whether this deep Auburn team can use his status as inspiration.
Spread Note - Go back to early March and you'll see Auburn's covered eight of its last 10 games.
#1 South: VIRGINIA (33-3) - Gotta agree with CBS/TBS mouthpiece Charles Barkley who, moments after Virginia bested Purdue 89-75 in OT in last Saturday's Elite 8 bash in Louisville, wondered aloud how Cavaliers' head coach Tony Bennett seemingly didn't make any real adjustments in dealing with Boilermakers' gunner Carsen Edwards (see 42 points /10-of-19 from trey-ville) ... if Bennett suffers through any more serious brain cramps here against Auburn then it'll be lights out for the ACC guys who are prohibitive 5.5-point betting favorites. The Cavs have to be thanking their lucky stars that perimeter shooter Kyle Guy (25 points got hot after halftime and that F Mamadi Diakite had the presence to hit that OT-forcing short jumper. Team of destiny? Perhaps, but the Cavs have suffered through too many dry spells in this tourney and that has to change. Spread Note - Hats off to the Wahoos who have notched spread wins in seven of their last nine non-ACC games
#3 West: TEXAS TECH (30-6) - Maybe no top four seed in any of the regions received less "love" than these T-Tech Red Raiders, but no matter. Third-year head coach Chris Beard cut his teeth under a chap named Bob Knight and so team defense is this club's numero uno priority ... and guess they played it pretty well in Saturday's 75-69 back-and-forth win versus 5.5-point favorite Gonzaga - and take note that the 'Zags took the game-day money as they went from a 4-point fav to a 5.5-point fav as the Lubbock gang continued to get disrespected. Go ahead and heap praise on Tech for holding Gonzaga some 18 points below its game-day average and three cheers for spindly F Tariq Owens (3 blocks and numerous in-the-paint distractions to Gonzaga shooters) who was an emotional leader for a team that does sport a sure-fire first-round NBA pick in G Jarrett Culver (19 points vs. Gonzaga) who happened to hoist 19 FGs and may take 20-plus FGs here against Michigan State. Spread Note - Texas Tech's covered 13 of its last 16 games overall the Red Raiders are the only team left in this Final Four that's a perfect 4-and-oh against the odds this tourney.
#2 East: MICHIGAN STATE (32-6) - Okay, so Spartans' head coach Tom Izzo can get super-emotional at the drop of a hat but the veteran sideline boss had reason for those tears of joy following in the wake of Sunday's epic 68-67 win against 2.5-point fav Duke in Elite 8 action from the nation's capital. For starters, Izzo's team had been short-handed for much of the year with an array of injuries in 2018-19 and wouldn't you know Michigan State really went just six deep here with PG Cassius Winston (20 points / 10 assists) never letting things get out of hand even though the above-mentioned Mr. Williamson threw down some hellacious dunks throughout the course of this clash. Winston pressed his foot on the pedal when necessary and slowed things down when needed and who knew Sparty could win an Elite 8 game b making just two free throws and shooting just 30-of -70 from the floor? Spread Note - Michigan State is 27-11 ATS overall this hoops season