Duke Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor (15) shoots during the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the finals of the south regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at NRG Stadium.
Every year, the Final Four captivates the country and produces some of the greatest moments in history. This year will be no different as Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State all have a chance to be the team to cut down the nets.
Duke and Michigan State will get things started Saturday night with tipoff set for 5:09 p.m. Kentucky and Wisconsin will follow directly after with a 7:49 p.m. tipoff.
Duke and Michigan State is an intriguing matchup of two legendary coaches, Mike Kryzyzewski and Tom Izzo, and a team that is star-studded against a team that just happened to get hot at the right time.
Duke (33-4) is led by a core of stars in Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook. Okafor is by far the main attraction as the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, but the Blue Devils would not be in the Final Four without Jones, Winslow and Cook.
Jones is the steadying force for the Blue Devils as the point guard and averages 5.8 assists per game. Winslow is a multi-faceted wing who tends to step up in the biggest moments when the game is on the line.
Cook is the least-heralded of the group, but is just as important as anybody on the team. He is the only senior in the starting lineup and has been the unquestioned leader while scoring 15.7 points per game as Duke’s biggest threat from behind the arc.
Michigan State (27-11) is on the opposite side of the spectrum as a 7-seed that pulled upsets against the No. 1, 2 and 4 seeds in their region to make the Final Four. The Spartans were a trendy pick before the tournament to make a Cinderella run and proved that they belong on the big stage.
It’s not like the Spartans are a huge surprise though as this year marks their seventh appearance in the Final Four over the past 16 years, winning the National Championship in 2000.
MSU is led by a pair of upperclassmen guards in Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine along with former top-recruit Branden Dawson. Trice and Dawson share a leadership role as seniors, but there is not questioning that Trice is the heart and soul of the Spartans.
Trice has saved the best basketball of his career for the NCAA Tournament. He is averaging 19.8 points per game and shooting a scorching 51 percent from the field. Those numbers are considerably higher than his season averages of 15.3 points and 39 percent from the field.
Valentine serves as the secondary scorer for MSU while Dawson is a do-it-all combo forward. At 6-feet, 6-inches, Dawson has posted huge numbers for his size as he averages 9.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 54 percent from the field.
This matchup will come down to how the Spartans defend the dynamic offense of Duke. The Spartans lack a big man capable of guarding AP First-Team All-American Okafor one-on-one in the low post so they will most likely double-team him the majority of the game. However, Michigan State must stay disciplined in their zone to not let Duke’s shooters have too much room to get their shot off.
While Trice and Valentine will keep Michigan State close into the second half, the Blue Devils simply have too much offensive firepower and will advance to theNational Championship.
Kentucky and Wisconsin’s matchup may have the most intrigue as any college basketball game in recent memory. The two teams squared off a year ago in the Final Four with Kentucky advancing to the title game in nail-biting fashion, 74-73.
But this season, the game has a much different feel to it as Kentucky enters the game undefeated and looking to become the first team in NCAA history to finish a season 40-0. Last year, the Wildcats entered as an 8-seed after knocking off then-undefeated Wichita State in the round of 32.
This game’s intrigue is not solely about it being a rematch, the intrigue centers around who wins the battle of the big men.
Kentucky fields three starters taller than 6-feet, 10-inches in Trey Lyles, Karl Anthony Towns and AP First-Team All-American Willie Cauley-Stein, all of which are projected to go in the top half of the first round in the NBA Draft. But Wisconsin may be the only team in America that has three quality big men that can match up with Kentucky.
Frank Kaminzky may be the toughest individual player to guard in the country as he stands 7-feet tall and shoots 41.5 percent from behind the arc for the Badgers. Not to mention, the AP First-Team All-American shoots 55 percent from the field and can score from anywhere on the court whether it be in the post, from mid-range, behind the arc or off the dribble.
But Kaminzky is far from alone. Sam Dekker is a versatile 6-feet, 9-inch forward who has exploded so far in the tourney. Dekker is averaging 21.8 points per game and shooting a scorching 49 percent from deep in Wisconsin’s four NCAA Tournament games.
At 6-feet, 7-inches and 250 pounds, Nigel Hayes is the Badgers’ swiss army knife. He can also score from anywhere on the court and brings the Badgers a certain toughness and tenacity they will need to knock off Kentucky as evidenced by his 7.7 rebounds per 40 minutes.
Despite being 38-0, Kentucky has been challenged a few times this season and is coming off their biggest test yet, a 68-66 barn-burner against Notre Dame. The Wildcats can be beaten and Wisconsin certainly has the right pieces to pull it off.
However, it is just so hard to pick against Kentucky. Every time a team has punched them in the mouth, the Wildcats have responded with a haymaker.
It appears as if the stars will align and America will get the glamorous National Championship it’s been yearning for, Kentucky vs. Duke.