By Nash Walker
What a phenomenal display of Elite 8 action.
Texas Tech took a strong second half to beat Gonzaga, Virginia outlasted Purdue and Carsen Edwards en route to Minneapolis, while Michigan State shocked Duke, and Auburn continued their magnificent run in an upset win over Kentucky.
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 5 Auburn
Bruce Pearl has willed his squad to its first Final Four in outstanding fashion. The key to this streak has come down to three things- shooting, rebounding, and leadership. The problem? Size- and the lack of it.
Losing Chuma Okeke to a devastating knee injury in the Sweet 16 was a huge blow. Auburn kept the rebounding margin to minus 4 against Kentucky. Virginia poses a different challenge. The Cavaliers win with three point shooting and defense. The offense runs through Kyle Guy, who scored 25 against Purdue. The matchup to watch is Guy and Bryce Brown.
Other noteworthy factors are pace and free throws. Auburn loves to turn teams over, leading the SEC in takeaways. Virginia had only 5 turnovers against Purdue. Auburn is inconsistent from the line, and other than Jared Harper, their free throw shooting is awful. Virginia often scores at the line. This is pivotal, as Auburn fouled Kentucky 21 times. Virginia favors the half-court and wearing teams down. If this is mucky and slow, advantage Virginia. Still, Auburn has shown they can play at a slower pace, and when they get out and run, watch out.
Nash’s pick: Bryce Brown out-duels Kyle Guy, Tigers speed on.
Auburn 75, Virginia 68
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Texas Tech
Jarrett Culver facilitates the Red Raiders. Michigan State is not athletic, and relies on floor general Cassius Winston. This is an enticing matchup. The Spartans are the second (see Auburn above) hottest team, winning 9 straight. They must dominate the boards and take high-quality shots. Texas Tech prevails with Culver and defense. Michigan State holds the rock, Texas Tech excels at taking it.
The X-factor is shooting. MSU boasts a stronger percentage, while Culver is 6-for-22 from deep in the tournament. Texas Tech will win through Culver. For Michigan State, their focus is avoiding turnovers and scoreless possessions.
I can see this game going in a number of ways, but Tech is rolling and the supporting cast has been phenomenal on both ends of the court.
Nash’s Pick: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech steal and shoot into the National Championship.
Texas Tech 68, Michigan State 65
National Championship: No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 5 Auburn
Nash’s Pick: Auburn. A fitting way to end a “chalky” field. Auburn has more pure talent and depth than Texas Tech, and Culver would have to shoot to keep up with Brown and Harper. Give me Auburn, driven by electricity and Okeke, to cut down the nets.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org