One of the most anticipated Final Fours in recent memory tips off tonight in Indianapolis and there will be no shortage of great story lines or fanatical crowd support. Anytime Kentucky is in a tournament anywhere on Earth, it is a sure bet there will be tens of thousands of blue clad faithful in attendance. Add in two large Big Ten alumni bases in Wisconsin and Michigan State – both within a tank of gas drive, and arguably the biggest national brand in college basketball, Duke, and you have the makings of an all-time Final Four.
SO who comes out on top tonight and will meet Monday for the Title? Let’s try to build on last weekend’s 6-2 ATS college hoops weekend with another pair of winners tonight.
Today’s Free Pick:
FINAL FOUR – NATIONAL SEMINFINALS (Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN)
Michigan State Spartans vs. Duke Blue Devils -5
These two teams met earlier this season in the same city (though in a smaller building; Bankers Life) and Duke won with relative ease, 81-71. To say that this will be a different Michigan State team tonight would be an understatement. Two months ago, Michigan State was a borderline tournament team. Now, they are a team that has gotten through Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisville to make the Final Four after dispatching Maryland and taking Wisconsin to overtime in the Big Ten Tourney.
However, this Duke team has grown substantially as well. Justise Winslow has blossomed into a Michael-Kidd Gilchrest role; the defensive wrecking ball and ‘spurtable’ offensive dynamo capable of allowing others to score most of the night and still get his dozen points in the span of about 4 minutes. Jahlil Okafor is capable of dominating the game tonight even against the physical Branden Dawson and Tyus Jones might be the most mature point guard left playing, even as a freshman and even against three really nice point guards in the Final Four.
My only concern is the shooting backdrop of the cavernous football stadium tonight. It could slow down the Blue Devils attack, but I still think they’ll have a little too much offense for Michigan State to offset. But don’t sleep on the Blue Devils improved defense. They’ve held teams to an average of 53.5 points so far in the NCAA Tournament, and aside from tempo-quick and efficient offenses like Notre Dame and North Carolina, no one has broken 60 against them since February.
I like Duke to cover the 5.5. I don’t think they’ll blow them out, but should win by a comfortable working margin.
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Kentucky Wildcats -5
This game is going to be awesome. Notre Dame may have laid out a blue print for taking down the Cats, and it wasn’t the one most people expected: don’t be afraid to go inside. Don’t rely on chucking up a ton of three pointers, and don’t discount the possibility of grabbing offensive rebounds. Attack on offense. Stay true on defense and don’t double even if Towns is tearing you limb from limb.
Do all these things and maybe, maybe, maybe you have a shot.
Oddly enough, I think Wisconsin has the ability to do some of those things. But not all. And they just don’t have enough scoring from the perimeter to trade punches with the Cats all night long. Kentucky got their scare and I think they’ll be better off because of the Notre Dame challenge. Everyone keeps saying that Wisconsin is a similar team stylistically. I’d disagree. Notre Dame has a NBA level playmaker in Jerian Grant. They also have a future NBA point guard in Demetrius Jackson and they surround them with knock-down shooters. Wisconsin is better on the interior with Kaminski and has a matchup nightmare for nearly all teams (except Kentucky) in Sam Dekker. Simple solution? Cauley-Stein on Dekker. The rest of the trees collapsing on Kaminski.
Can Wisconsin really beat Kentucky with Gasser/Koening/Hayes/Jackson? I don’t think any of them are on the Jerian Grant level or even on par with Demtrius Jackson.
It’s very trendy to take Wisconsin right now. They are likeable, smart, full of veterans, etc. Nearly 64% of the public picks have gone their way on three or four major handicapping sites and sportsbooks. But I’m heading the other direction. Kentucky is the better team. They are deeper, quicker, longer and far less dependent on jump shots in a dome. I like the Cats to win and cover to set up and EPIC final against Duke.
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