Big story line for Michigan State
Ending the streak: Michigan State has a chance to win the Big Ten’s first national title since the Spartans won it all in 2000. Michigan (to Villanova, ’18), Wisconsin (to Duke, ’15) and even the Spartans (to UNC, ’09) all lost more recent title games. Only the Pac-12 has a longer title drought, with Arizona winning the last one in 1997.
Big story line for for Texas Tech
Legendary shadow: Texas Tech’s basketball program was turned around twice by coaching legends — Bobby Knight from 2001-08 and Tubby Smith from 2013-16. Knight took the Red Raiders to their first Sweet 16 (with Chris Beard as an assistant) in nine years in 2005. Smith went to Tech’s first NCAA tourney in nine years in 2016.
Tom Izzo vs. Chris Beard: Izzo, a Naismith Hall of Fame inductee in 2016, is coaching in his eighth Final Four, the most of any Division I basketball coach since 1999. Beard, a former junior college, Division II and ABA coach, returned to the program where he was a longtime assistant under both Knights — Bobby and his son, Pat — to teach the same hard-nosed defensive principles he learned from “The General.”
Matt McQuaid: He is the most important guard in the Final Four that nobody will be talking about. The 6-4 senior (9.8 points per game) helped replace the scoring presence of injured starter Joshua Langford. McQuaid was arguably the MVP of the Big Ten Conference tournament with 27 points on seven three-pointers in the Spartans’ 65-60 victory over rival Michigan in the final.
Tariq Owens vs. Xavier Tillman
This frontcourt battle matches up two different types of post players. Owens is a 6-10 shot-blocking (2.4 per game) grad transfer from St. John’s. Tillman is an imposing, 6-8, 245-pound sophomore who has excelled after Spartans junior and star big man Nick Ward was sidelined because of a broken hand.
Michigan State will win if ...
Cassius Winston has fewer than three turnovers and Tillman scores at least 14 points (in such games, the Spartans are 10-1 this season).
Texas Tech will win if ...
The Red Raiders force the Spartans to commit 15 turnovers or more (Red Raiders rank 22nd nationally with opponents averaging 15.7 turnovers).
Prediction Texas Tech 73, Michigan State 68