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With the Final Four now set, a lot can be said about the teams that are now in and the roads they each took to get there. It’s no secret that the top 5 teams in the country all season long have remained consistently good, with very little movement in their respective ranks. The Final Four this weekend in Indianapolis would tell this story perfectly as for the first time since 2009, more than one #1 seed has made it to the final weekend. In fact, it’s even more rare to see three #1 teams, as we have this year, but it should be expected as Kentucky, Wisconsin and Duke have been in the top 5 all season long. The sweet 16 was packed with storied programs, great coaches and no teams that wore the Cinderella label. The Elite 8 featured six top 10 teams, and a Louisville team who was ranked in the top 10 all season. The lowest ranked team Michigan State, is playing in their 7th Final Four under Coach Tom Izzo, and is no stranger to the big stage. The anticipation of this weekend’s games is at a historic high and as we take a closer look at these teams it has become more evident that this is anyone’s tournament to win.
KENTUCKY – The Wildcats continued their quest for perfection with a dominant performance over West Virginia and a then a nail biter against Notre Dame. West Virginia called their shot early, holding nothing back in the fact that they were going to hit Kentucky up with a full court press. Credit to the Mountaineers for sticking to the game plan, but more credit needs to be given to Kentucky who turned that knowledge into a 30 point massacre in the sweet 16 game. It took the Wildcats all but one possession to impose their will on WVU, as they dominated from the tip on both sides of the ball. The Notre Dame matchup posed a bit more of a challenge for Kentucky as they need the full 40 minutes to pull out the win. The Fighting Irish brought 4 exceptional shooters forcing the Kentucky big men out to defend. This opened up the Irish for easy points in the paint, while hitting fewer threes than they averaged all season. Kentucky rolled out their 10 deep lineup and wore the Irish down by the end of the game. However, head coach John Calipari remains confident. “We didn’t play very well and Notre Dame played really well, controlled the whole thing,” Calipari said in his post-game interview. “But we made the plays. We figured out a way to win.” The Wildcats get Wisconsin in the National semi-finals, a matchup the country has being lobbying for since the beginning of the season.
WISCONSIN – The Badgers took a while to adjust to UNC’s pace but eventually dropped the hammer midway through 2nd half. The most versatile big man in the country, Frank Kaminsky, terrorized the Tar Heels late after a slow start. Sam Dekker chipped in with a career high 23 points as Wisconsin put the game on ice in the final minutes. The Tar Heels gave them all they could handle with impossible perimeter defense before wearing down in the 2nd half. The slow start by Kaminsky almost cost Wisconsin, but Dekker and company picked the team up. In the Elite 8 which featured virtually two #1 seeds in Arizona and Wisconsin squaring off Wisconsin turned on their scoring jets, taking it to the #2 seed. It was the Dekker-Kaminsky show again, as Dekker scored a career high for the 2nd game in a row, only to be outdone by Frank the Tank’s 29 points. Wisconsin’s ability to slow down the game, get off quality shots, and get the ball inside was simply too much for Arizona to handle. The Badgers look to knock off Wildcats for the 2nd game in a row when they play Kentucky in Indianapolis for a right to play in the National Championship game. The Badgers have been waiting for this game all season long as they were knocked off by Kentucky in the same game last season. Both teams are better, so this promises to be one of the best semi-finals in recent history.
DUKE – The Blue Devils, who have the best point guard left in the tournament in Tyus Jones, made quick work of Utah before working Gonzaga for a full 40 minutes. The Utah game was fairly uneventful as the game was controlled by Duke throughout. The six point margin in the final score was not indicative of Duke’s ability to control the game, as the last minute Utah was forced to resort to fouling. Both teams we’re extremely sloppy for the first 10 minutes, as Utah missed their first 9 shots of the game. Great defense by the Blue Devils off set shaky shooting before Justice Winslow, and Tyus Jones finally got into a rhythm. In the Elite 8 match up against Gonzaga, Duke seemed to be in control the entire game, but not enough to make the Blue Devil fan base nervous throughout. It wasn’t until the final 4 minutes that Duke pulled away for good. Once again they controlled the game, building a sizable lead by the half. Duke heads into the final four against Michigan State, and will be hard pressed to not look to the finals. Oh the irony should Duke and Kentucky play for the National Championship, with the Blue Devils being the one team that could ruin Kentucky’s perfect season.
MICHIGAN STATE – Michigan State emerged from what was arguably the worst bracket in the tournament featuring the weakest 1-3 seeds in any bracket. Michigan State upset 3-seed Oklahoma in the sweet 16, and won a nail biter against Louisville in a game that went down to the wire, and ended with a the Spartans outscoring the Cardinals 11-5 in OT. Michigan State rode the coat tails of excellent coaching and great guard play by Travis Trice. This teams lacks the depth of the others still remaining but seniors Trice and forward Branden Dawson bring a tremendous amount of experience to the court – experience that has brought them to this point. The Spartans lost to Duke earlier this season, but both teams are better now, and anything can happen.