The men’s Final Four is set, with No. 5 seed Auburn and Michigan State winning Sunday to join No. 3 seed Texas Tech and No. 1 seed Virginia next weekend in Minneapolis. Here are seven takeaways to get you ready for the final three games of the season.
• There will be vastly different levels of Final Four pedigree in Minneapolis. Virginia has played in the Final Four just twice previously, in 1981 and 1984. Texas Tech and Auburn have never been there before, and none of the coaches from those three schools have been to the national semifinal round before. Meanwhile, Michigan State will be playing in its 10th Final Four in school history.
• The lack of upsets in the early rounds of this year’s tournament might have made for a sleepy first weekend, but that was long forgotten after a fabulous, heart-stopping Elite Eight. There were 12 lead changes in Texas Tech’s win over Gonzaga, in which neither team led by more than six until the final minute. Virginia was on the ropes in the final seconds against Purdue, until a missed free throw led to a game-tying Mamadi Diakite jumper and overtime. Auburn trailed by double digits in the first half against Kentucky on Sunday but was able to force overtime.
• Does defense win championships? This weekend will provide the latest referendum. Through March 24, Virginia and Texas Tech ranked first and third in the country in scoring defense, respectively. Texas Tech, Michigan State and Virginia are all in the top five nationally in field goal percentage defense.
• There will be a dearth of elite talent in Minneapolis. From ESPN’s latest list of the top 20 NBA draft prospects, only two will participate in the Final Four: Virginia’s DeAndre Hunter (5) and Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver (6).
• Auburn’s free-wheeling style stood out all season, and it should again this week. The high-scoring Tigers are third in the country in three-pointers per game and have already made 49 in their first four NCAA tournament games. None of the other Final Four teams rank in the top 100 in that category; Texas Tech is 232nd.
• When it comes to coaching records in this year’s Final Four, there’s Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, and there’s everyone else. He has 22 NCAA tournament appearances, the same number as Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl put together, including stints those coaches had at other schools. No one in that trio had taken a team to the Final Four before, whereas Izzo had led the Spartans there seven times heading into this tournament, including a national title in 2000.
• Missing the Madness? It shouldn’t be all that unexpected that the final four teams standing are high seeds. Since 1985, a No. 1 seed has reached the national championship game 33 times. In that span, only three teams have won a national title as lower than a four-seed, while top seeds have won 21 times, two-seeds five times and three-seeds four times.
Schedule and TV information
All times Eastern. All games at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Saturday’s semifinals (April 6)
Virginia vs. Auburn, 6:09 p.m., CBS
Michigan State vs. Texas Tech, approx. 8:49 p.m., CBS
Monday’s final (April 8)
Semifinal winners, 9 p.m., CBS
Virginia (minus-5.5) vs. Auburn; 130.5 over/under
Michigan State (minus-2.5) vs. Texas Tech; 133.5 over/under
Elite Eight results
The season junior point guard doesn’t have a one-and-done’s physical gifts. What he does have: Experience, toughness and a Final Four.
The Spartans’ coach thought he knew what it take to beat the No. 1 overall seed. His players, including a fifth-year senior former walk-on, proved him right.
First Kansas, then North Carolina and Kentucky: They’re gone, and the Tigers are still alive.
Here Tony Bennett was, staring down his demons and taking his father on a vicarious demon-hunting exhibition. It was the players’ triumph, for certain. But over the past 10 years, it has been Bennett who yo-yoed between the accolades and admonishment as his program suffered through March phobia.
Bruce Pearl’s Tigers deliver a gem to pull away from top-seeded North Carolina in a Midwest Region that bears scars from recent NCAA investigations.
The Auburn coach — sales guy, program resuscitator, man with enemies and baggage — is the very embodiment of his sport.
At some point in the gripping West Region final on Saturday, a melancholy reality might have settled in: One way or the other, the NCAA tournament was about to dismiss a team of surpassing fortitude and sublime caliber, right at the bracket’s harshest juncture.
Junior guard scored a team-high 25 points and made five second-half three-pointers to bust out of a shooting slump against No. 3 seed Purdue.
The victory came 10 years ago to the day that Tony Bennett was announced as the Cavaliers’ coach.
Formally dressed couples came running down the street, having left sorority and fraternity events to join the fray. Girls climbed on boys’ shoulders as the bar’s DJ started pumping music on massive speakers that had previously broadcast the game to passersby. One woman dressed in a bridal gown crowd-surfed, and threw her bouquet into the crowd.
A largely overlooked recruit out of high school, the Texas Tech guard’s profile has risen with a breakout sophomore season and a sensational NCAA tournament.
Diminutive freshman guard shows poise beyond his years in helping the top-seeded Cavaliers reach their first Final Four berth since 1984.
It’s easy to criticize top-seeded Virginia’s ponderous style, columnist Jerry Brewer writes, but you can’t argue with the results.
The Blue Devils used words like “instincts” and “smart” repeatedly when describing the freshman star’s ability to affect games not just with highlight dunks, but with more subtle plays.
The Duke coach, in his 39th season, is winning with the kind of players he once thought he’d never recruit.
Wolfson, who will be on the sideline for Duke-Michigan State, keeps finding herself in the spotlight.