Region (seed): Midwest (5)
Coach: Bruce Pearl
The squad: Pearl has worked a miracle of sorts, getting this football school to the Final Four. Pearl and Auburn both have black marks in their past. Pearl was fired from Tennessee in 2011 for alleged violations, and Auburn has had player suspensions and an assistant coach fired in the past two years amid investigations. These Tigers are on solid ground now, though, led by perhaps the best backcourt in the nation. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown are as good as college basketball guards get.
Telling quote: “Man, I can’t wait to get to Minnesota. Words I never thought I’d say before.” — Charles Barkley, Auburn’s most famous alum and broadcaster.
First reaction to their matchup: Auburn has beaten Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in its past three games. Why should ACC giant Virginia scare it?
Region (seed): South (1)
Coach: Tony Bennett
The squad: A year ago, we were all laughing at these Cavaliers, getting crushed by 16th-seed Maryland-Baltimore County in the first round. All but a handful of these players had to get past that — and, boy, did they ever. Twelve months later, Virginia booked its trip to MSP with a buzzer-beater in regulation and a solid OT to topple Purdue in the South final.
Telling quote: “How many times Coach Bennett has been a 1-seed or a 2-seed and has had so much regular-season success? To be the team that gets him to the Final Four, I think that’s what means the most.” — Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome.
First reaction to their matchup: Virginia plays great defense and a smart, full-court game. Auburn loves to run and gun. The Cavs probably can’t fall behind, and they have to force the Tigers into tough decisions.
Region (seed): West (3)
Conference: Big 12
Coach: Chris Beard
The squad: Tech has a true star in Jarrett Culver, and it plays incredible defense. But there’s more to the Red Raiders, and at the top of that list are transfers Matt Mooney, a guard from South Dakota, and forward Tariq Owens from St. John’s.
Telling quote: “They are really good at reaching, poking and digging things out there. This is the best team I’ve ever had for taking care of the ball. So it’s real. That defense is real.” — Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
First reaction to their matchup: Well, they’ll have to find a way to contain Zion, and keep RJ in check, limit Tre Jo ... oh, wait, Michigan State won? Oh, OK. Texas Tech won’t have to match up against a load of future lottery picks, but there are good reasons the Spartans survived: great coaching, solid team defense, taking care of the ball and making big shots.
Region (seed): East (2)
Conference: Big Ten
Coach: Tom Izzo
The squad: For so long it seemed Duke was destined for our new dome. But Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Kenny Goins had other plans. Specifically, a trip to Minneapolis. This will be Tom Izzo’s eighth Final Four. Izzo had his Spartans at the Metrodome in 2001, Minneapolis’ most recent Final Four, and they won it all in 2000, the last Big Ten team to do so.
Telling quote: “I’ve had some great Final Four [teams], but this one ranks right up there with maybe the best, the way we had to do it all season.” — Izzo.
First reaction to their matchup: Goins had a great final minute against Duke: a defensive stop, a rebound and his go-ahead three over Zion Williamson. If Winston gets this kind of help from his friends against Tech, the Red Raiders could be in trouble.
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