Our writers fanned out across the country to watch the NCAA regionals. Here's where make a case for why each of the teams coming to Minneapolis can win the Final Four.
AUBURN has been a giant killer, as Megan Ryan explains:
Kentucky. Kansas. North Carolina. What do those three schools have in common? They rank as the top-three winningest teams in the college basketball.
What else? Auburn’s trounced them all.
In just a matter of 10 days, the fast-paced Tigers have swatted Division I’s best out of their path to the Final Four in Minneapolis. Never mind that the No. 5 seed played the little guy to No. 4 Kansas in the second round, No. 1 North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
So why could they win the national championship next Monday? The better question might be, how could they not?
Auburn, a football powerhouse, might be new to this whole college basketball’s elite scene. And the Tigers have certainly played David to many Goliaths this postseason. But their spot in the Final Four is no fluke. They’re the hottest team in the country, having won the past 12 games, including the SEC tournament, in usually thrilling fashion. No backcourt is playing better, with Jared Harper and Bryce Brown carrying the team at times.
MICHIGAN STATE has all the ingredients, Joe Christensen argues:
Cassius Winston’s mother saw the elation on Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s face Sunday after the Spartans knocked off No. 1-seeded Duke.
“I said, ‘How about that?’ And she said, ‘That’s not good enough. We’ve got two more,’ ” Izzo said. “I looked at her and said, ‘A woman of my heart.’ ”
Izzo is the lone member of this Final Four coaching quartet who has been to the NCAA semifinals before. The Spartans are 2-5 in those semifinal games and 1-1 in championship games; the 1999-2000 team won the national title with Mateen Cleaves.
This team has championship ingredients, from a Cleaves-like point guard in Winston to defensive grit, to rebounding prowess, to a fine-tuned offense that can beat teams with outside shooting, points in the paint, or both.
TEXAS TECH has toughness and a rising star coach, Jim Souhan says:
This is a tournament about veteran toughness and decision-making, and Texas Tech’s defense makes it difficult for opposing offenses to make good decisions.
In the West Regional, Tech faced two well-coached offenses, one of which was the top-scoring team in the country. Michigan couldn’t function and Gonzaga found its usual productive drives turning into blocked shots, missed shots and turnovers.
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard is the fastest-rising star on a college basketball sideline. In his second season, he took Tech to its first Elite Eight. In his third season, he has brought Tech here to Minnesota for its first Final Four. This isn’t a one-shot, magic-moment, underdog story. This is a testament to coaching, defense and mental toughness.
None of which would matter so much if the Red Raiders didn’t have offensive talent. Sophomore Jarrett Culver, at 6-5, is a pure shooter who can also weave his way to the basket or dunk over a defender. South Dakota transfer Matt Mooney shoots with range and passes with intelligence.
VIRGINIA has all the ingredients of a title team, Chip Scoggins notes:
The Virginia Cavaliers are the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four and perhaps the most well-rounded team left.
The Cavs can win low-scoring games, and as they proved in the South Region final, they can win shootouts, too.
Virginia ranks No. 1 in KenPom’s overall rankings, No. 2 in adjusted offense efficiency and No. 5 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
In layman’s terms: The Cavs are good in all areas.
Virginia leads the nation in fewest points allowed per game at 55.4. On offense, the Cavs prefer a slower pace that puts a premium on shot selection and taking care of the ball. They rank No. 1 in Division I in fewest turnovers per game (9.0), seventh in three-point shooting (39.4 percent) and sixth in fewest fouls per game (14.6). The Cavs don’t beat themselves with wasted possessions, sloppy defense or reckless play.