Welcome to the big dance! After two weeks and 60 games, only four teams remain to claim the title as national champion. The contestants are: Michigan State, Texas Tech, Virginia and Auburn.
Only 7,000 brackets submitted the correct final four out of 1 billion. So do we even bother guessing what will happen next? Yes, because shattering expectations is what this tournament is all about.
So far, the biggest expectation that was broken was Michigan State beating the top team in NCAA, the Duke Blue Devils. Coming off three easy victories beating Bradley University, Minnesota University and Louisiana State University, they stared the juggernaut in the face and brought their A game.
Following in the leadership of head coach Tom Izzo and junior guard Cassius Winston, this team was ready for the challenge. Izzo may be the angriest coach in college basketball. He is known for his screaming matches, red bubbling face and an attitude that is only geared towards winning. Cassius on the other hand, takes his coaches’ words and seems to translate them in a peaceful and exquisite fashion that produces on the court and calms everyone down.
Mix that with a strong supporting cast and some March luck, and this team is ready for any challenge that comes their way.
In fact, their next challenge is here in the form of Texas Tech. Their road was a little bit bumpier than Michigan State. To start, they graduated five of their six top scorers this year and the team is made up of no ESPN top-100 recruits, a man from Italy, transfers and a first-year head coach that knows no limits.
Texas Tech wasn’t supposed to make the tournament at the start of the season and now they have proven that the best defense in the country can win championships. Sophomore Jarret Culver has had a monster season that launched him onto every draft board in the country.
What makes Texas Tech so different is their defense. Some of the best weak side helped the defense in the NCAA with rotations and switches that leave the best offenses scrambling. They have bought into Chris Beard’s scheme that defense can win championships. Now they have their chance to prove it.
On the other side of the bracket, Virginia is taking on Auburn University. The Cavaliers are also all about defense. They lead the NCAA in opponent’s points per game behind the mind of Tony Bennett. Their zone defense stifles even the most prolific offenses. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that they have made it this far, but it seems odd.
That is because the last time they did this was in 1984 and they lost in the first round last year, as the No. 1 seed. The first No. 1 seed to be upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament ever. The looming shadow of doubt is finally gone as they rebounded well and are looking to advance to the National title game.
Auburn could care less about all of that. They are here as a No. 5 seed and the Cinderella of this year’s tournament. Don’t worry about Auburn, though, they have experience being the underdog, just ask Tennessee. Auburn won the SEC basketball tournament also as a No. 5 seed, beating the Volunteers as the No. 3 seed.
Auburn hasn’t lost in over a month. Twelve straight wins earned them their first trip to the Final Four. Now, they only have to win two more to put the world on its head and become the national champions. Only three games remain, four teams and a dream. Who will take it all?