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NCAA Tournament 2015: Final Four Preview

Will Kentucky's perfect season finally end? Can Michigan State make it a second consecutive year that a 7-seed has made it to the National Championship game?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After two chaotic weeks of NCAA Tournament basketball, we're down to four teams and we have just three games left to be played. Here's a quick preview of what's left to come:

1) Wisconsin vs. 1) Kentucky:

It's been an eerily similar tournament for the Wisconsin Badgers compared to last year. They defeated the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite Eight for the second straight year, and also will face the Kentucky Wildcats for the second straight year in the Final Four. In that game, Andrew Harrison hit a game-winning three in the final seconds to lead Kentucky to a 74-73 victory.

For Kentucky, anything short of a title will be considered a failure for this 38-0, star-studded team. Unlike last year's Kentucky team, who got hot at the right time, this team is supposed to be in this position. The Wildcats got quite the scare against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Elite Eight, and for a while there it looked like their perfect season was in jeopardy. Despite being down by five with just over five minutes left in the game, they managed to come back to win. It feels like this is a team of destiny.

One thing is for sure, this game will feature plenty of star power. On Wisconsin's end, you have the likely National Player of the Year in Frank Kaminsky, and Sam Dekker (Arizona fans know him well). On the other side, you have the daunting frontline of Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Trey Lyles, the Harrison twins, and a bench full of 5-star players.

I think the tipping point in this game will be Kentucky's size and front court depth.

For most teams, Frank Kaminsky is a huge matchup problem. He's too strong and skilled in the post for smaller defenders, and he's too good off the dribble for bigger defenders. The thing is, Kentucky isn't like most teams. They have an unfair amount of large, versatile defenders that all have unique skill sets that can be used to slow down Kaminsky. Willie Cauley-Stein, who missed last year's matchup between these teams, possesses a ridiculous defensive skill set. He has the length to challenge and alter shots, has the lateral quickness of a guard, and is a leaper. He's arguably the best defender in college basketball, and figures to be a tough matchup for Kaminsky.

And if for some reason he gets in foul trouble or is somehow ineffective, Coach Calipari has many others he can turn to. Dakari Johnson is a 260+ pound center that can prevent Kaminsky from getting good post position. And he's nearly 7-feet tall so he can alter shots too. Then you have Karl-Anthony Towns who is the size of an NBA center and averages 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes. And wait, there's more! Marcus Lee, a lanky and quick 6'9" forward, could cause havoc for Kaminsky similar to how Rondae Hollis-Jefferson did at times. Trey Lyles, who plays the three for UK, is 6'10" and could help with Kaminsky too if need be. The list goes on and on, and for this reason, I don't see Kaminsky having a big game against UK's frontline.

Not only will Kentucky's size help them stop Kaminsky, they'll be able to control the glass all game. Wisconsin doesn't offensive rebound much anyway, but they are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation, and it's extremely vital to their success. But as good as they normally are, will their relatively small and thin front court be able to keep Kentucky's bigs from crashing the offensive glass? Other than than 7'0" Kaminsky, their tallest forwards are Nigel Hayes (6'7), Sam Dekker (6'9"), and Duje Dukan (6'9"). How will they deal with NBA size of Kentucky? Kentucky has four rotation players that average over 10 rebounds per game per 40 minutes.

If Kentucky can control the offensive glass and slow down Kaminsky, their offense, which can struggle at times, won't need to be extremely efficient to win this one.


Unless Sam Dekker and/or one of the other role players, such as Bronson Koenig or Nigel Hayes, play out of their minds, or the Badgers hit an outrageously high percentage of their threes again, I see Kentucky moving on.

7) Michigan State vs. 1) Duke:

Michigan State vs. Duke? Seems like a pretty normal Final Four matchup, right? Not this time. The Michigan State Spartans were having a "down year", but have made a run similar to what 7-seed UConn did last year on its way to another National Championship.

Senior guard Travis Trice has averaged nearly 20 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, which is comparable to what Shabazz Napier did last March. Will Michigan State be able to complete this run like UCONN did? Standing in their way are the Duke Blue Devils.

Everyone knows about the freshman phenom center Jahlil Okafor, but the real star for Duke this tournament has been Justise Winslow. In Duke's last two games, Winslow has averaged 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while also making five of his last eight three point attempts. He has also recored three double-doubles in the tourney already. With the amount of attention Jahlil Okafor draws from defenses, it allows Winslow to have plenty of scoring opportunities, and he has done a great job taking advantage.

Matchup-wise, this figures to be a very interesting contest. Both teams shoot the ball really well. Duke and Michigan State both shoot about 39% from behind the arc. Where Duke will have a major advantage is inside.

A glaring problem for Michigan State is that they don't really have a dominant interior defender that they can put on Jahlil Okafor. MSU's front court consists of Gavin Schilling, Brandon Dawson, and Matt Costello. Schilling and Costello are just 6'9" and Dawson is just 6'6". If they cannot slow dow Okafor, they might have to double him. Unfortunately for the Spartans, Okafor is a great passer from the post and usually handles double teams well. Michigan State's defense could get burned by Winslow or the shooters that Duke surrounds their center with if they do decide to double.

Michigan State does have something that Duke doesn't have much of though: experience. Most of MSU's rotation players are either seniors or juniors, while Duke has just one senior and three of their starters are freshmen (granted, their freshmen are spectacular). Final Four games are usually extremely close and MSU's experience is certainly a good thing to have when the pressure's on.

We can be certain that Tom Izzo and Coach K, two of the best coaches in college basketball, will have their teams well-prepared and ready to play at a high level from the opening tip. This should be a good one.


As much as I'd love to see a 7-seed move on to the National Championship game again, I think Duke will win in a close one.