Final Four Teams Strengths, Weakness and X-Factors
The elite eight delivered four of the best college basketball games I have ever seen. I expect nothing less than 2 stellar, jaw-dropping games that come down to the wire on Saturday. Texas Tech and Virginia have proven themselves to be two of the best defensive teams in the country, while Michigan State and Auburn have displayed some of the best guard-play in the tournament.
Game 1: Texas Tech vs Michigan State
Strengths: Veteran leadership, efficiency
- They are led by a starting group of predominantly upper-class men with many big games under their belt. The majority of the rotation has a solid amount of prior tournament experience.
- Over the last two games MSU has only turned the ball over a total of 16 times, and they average 13 per game on the season. In the last game MSU beat Duke in the turnover battle 17-7. If Spartans can continue to play as efficiently as they have in the last two games, Texas Tech is going to be in trouble.
Weaknesses: Only one reliable ball handler, depth
- Cassius Winston is the only reliable guard who can handle the ball on this team. He averages nearly eight assists within the year, when no other player on the team even averages three. If Winston gets in foul trouble, or gets hurt, MSU will not be able to withstand Tech’s pesky defense.
- Michigan State played a large portion of the second half of the season with a limited rotation. They lost Tillman (who is back now) for a period of time, Kyle Ahrens went down for the year, and Nick Ward has been in and out of the lineup due to injury. The Spartans are essentially down to a six-man rotation, so they have to stay injury free and out of foul trouble to win this game.
X Factor: Cassius Winston
- Cassius Winston has carried the Spartans to the Final Four and is a heavy favorite to win Player of the Tournament. On the season, Winston has averaged 19 points, nearly eight assists, and under three turnovers. However, in Michigan State’s six losses, he averaged over five turnovers. If the Spartans are going to advance, they need a big game from Cassius Winston with very few turnovers.
Strengths: defense, turnover margin
- On average throughout the four games in the tournament, the Red Raiders have held their opponents to 24 points per game less than their season average. What they did to Michigan was absolutely terrifying.
- Texas Tech’s turnover margin in the tournament to date is +17. If they are going to win this game they will have to win the turnover battle.
Weaknesses: Only one or two players who can get their own shot
- Jarrett Culver is the only player on Tech’s roster who can undoubtedly get his own shot. Mooney is able to at times, and Moretti will every once in a while, but he is more of a catch and shoot guard.
X Factor: Matt Mooney
- Matt Mooney is going to be the key for Texas Tech if they win this game. When Mooney scores 12 or more points Texas Tech is 14-1, when he has three or more steals they are 9-0, and in their six losses on the season, Mooney averaged just over seven points and two assists per game. Thus far in the tournament, he is averaging nearly 12 points, four assists, and three steals. For Tech to beat Michigan State, I think Mooney will have to outplay Winston, or at least come extremely close. If Matt Mooney can rattle Cassius Winston and force some turnovers, the Red Raiders could very well keep dancing.
Game 2: Auburn vs Virginia
Strengths: Stellar guard play, high scoring, hottest team in the country
- The dominant duo Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are averaging a combined 36 points a game in the tournament.
- Auburn has averaged nearly 80 points a game on the season and just over 85 points a game in the tournament. That is by far the highest total of the four remaining teams.
- Over the last three tournament games, Auburn has averaged a margin of victory greater than 12. They have shot the lights out and need to continue to do so, in order to take down Virginia—who is now the favorite to win the tournament.
Weaknesses: Front court, streaky shooting
- Auburn lost their best big earlier in the tournament who averaged 12 points, seven rebounds, and two assists. Okeke was Auburn’s only forward who averaged over eight points or five rebounds a game. Many consider him to be a potential first round pick this summer and he was Auburn’s only real front court threat. Over the season, the remaining four forwards averaged a combined 21.5 points a game. This means that one or two of their remaining forwards are going to have to step for the Tigers to win this game.
- The three ball has carried Auburn to the Final Four. They have shot over 40% from three thus far and relied on the deep ball to win many games. They need to stay hot to have a shot in this game.
X Factor: Bryce Brown
- Since the start of February, Auburn has gone 16-3 with the three losses all coming against teams who made the tournament. In the three losses, Brown averaged slightly over 8 points per game. In the 16 wins, Brown scored 16.5 points a game. He is an absolute spark plug for the Tigers. If they are going to win this game, Bryce Brown is going to have to score at least 15-20 points. With Chuma Okeke being out, they just do not have enough offense to beat an incredibly solid Virginia team that is going to slow them down and make every possession count.
Strengths: Veteran leaders, control pace of play, elite defense
- Ty Jerome, DeAndre Hunter, and Kyle Guy have hundreds of ACC games collectively under their belt throughout their careers. They have also led Virginia to a 64-6 record over the last two seasons. They are over a five-point favorite for a reason. Scoresandodds.com has the Cavaliers at -5.5.
- Virginia is better than any team in the nation at slowing down the pace of play. You almost never see them take a shot within the first 20 seconds of the possession, even though they still end up with quality shots. They held to opponents to under 56 points a game on the season in large part because of how well they control the tempo.
- Virginia is holding opponents to just under 58 points through four games in the tournament. If they can hold Auburn to anything even remotely close to 58, they should win this game.
Weaknesses: Have a hard time scoring occasionally, very small rotation
- Virginia relies heavily on their defense to win. They are usually so good at controlling the pace and playing great defense, that they get away with awful scoring droughts. Auburn has an incredibly high-powered offense. Virginia could very well have a difficult time keeping the Tigers in check. If they go on a six-minute scoring drought or two like they did in the Sweet 16 against Oregon, it could cost them the game.
- The Cavaliers have used a six man rotation for much of the tournament. They have one or two guys outside of that rotation with a little bit of game experience, but that is about it. They need to stay out of foul trouble to be able to play the slow, high-intensity, defensive style of basketball they prefer.
X Factor: Mamadi Diakite
- In the three Virginia losses this season, Diakite has averaged just over 13 minutes, four points, and a little over one rebound per game. In their 33 wins, he averaged 22 minutes, nearly eight points, and a little under five rebounds. Jack Salt had his starting spot stolen by Diakite after the opening round scare against Gardner-Webb. Through four games in the tournament, Diakite has averaged 13 points and nine rebounds. Auburn’s only good big went down in the sweet 16 against North Carolina, leaving the door wide open for Diakite to dominate this game for Virginia.
PICK: Virginia -5.5
Final Four Trends:
The total has gone over in seven out of Virginia’s last nine games.
Auburn is 8-4 against the spread in their last 12 games.
The total has gone under in five of Michigan State’s last six games.
Michigan State is 11-4 against the spread in their last 15.
Texas Tech is 11-3 against the spread in their last 14.