Previewing the final 4 days of the college hoops season

There are only four more days of college basketball this season which means the long, seven-month wait between games is way too close. However, after a thrilling weekend of Elite 8 games, basketball fans are expecting to see more of the same across the final six games of the season.

It all gets started on Friday night when the NCAA Women’s Final Four gets underway in Tampa. Unlike the men’s tournament, there have not been many surprises during the women’s tournament and that has us set with four teams that have been among the nation’s best all season.

The first game features the top seed in the tournament that statistically looks like one of the greatest teams of all time. Baylor has a plus-19 percent difference between its shooting percentage and its opponents’ shooting percentage this season.

The Bears earned the bracket’s top seed behind a 23-game winning streak entering the tournament. They have now extended that to 27 games and only three — yes, THREE — have been decided by single digits.

Baylor has eased its way to this point but standing in the way is one of the most prestigious players in the country. Win or lose, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu has been the most valuable player in this tournament and that will continue Friday night.

Ionescu grabbed the first triple-double in an NCAA Tournament game since Draymond Green did it and she had the highest scoring triple-double since Dwayne Wade’s in 2003. She is exciting to watch and when the Ducks surround her with sharpshooters, Oregon can beat anyone in the country.

In the second game, we have a rematch of last year’s final four between UConn and Notre Dame. This game has the reigning national champion and a team who has been to 12 consecutive national semifinals.

Somehow, the Huskies are the No. 2 seed in this game and they have been using that to drive their play over the last two weeks. Depth was a concern in the past for UConn but it feels like Katie Lou Samuelson has been there for seven years and she could be the difference because of her experience in these big games.

On Saturday, the men’s Final Four gets started in Minneapolis. The relatively Cinderella team this year is Auburn but it does not enter as major underdogs like Cinderella teams in the past.

The Tigers are the scariest team in the country when they start making consecutive shots. Watching Jared Harper and Bryce Brown is the most excitement we have left in the tournament since Zion Williamson and Duke exited.

However, the lone No. 1 seed remaining is Virginia which shook off its March Madness demons to get to the Final Four behind a miracle shot in the Elite 8. The Cavaliers are known for their defense and they still have players that can score the ball efficiently but limiting Auburn’s opportunities in transition and from beyond the arc will be key.

In the second game, Michigan State and Texas Tech will be in what’s maybe even more of an unexpected meeting. Both teams just knocked off the top seed in their respective regions and will hope to carry that momentum into Saturday night.

The Spartans may hold the biggest edge of any of the four teams because of coach Tom Izzo’s experience in the Final Four. However, if Michigan State is going to win a championship, it’s going to come at the hands of Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston.

Winston plays a true point guard who can find the open man in the half court or transition but also knows how to take over the game when needed. Winston is a scorer, a passer and deceptively quick on both ends of the court.

If you do not like watching the low-scoring Virginia games, watching Texas Tech reminds you of how fun it can be to watch good defense. The Red Raiders have been the best defense team in the country without playing at a preposterously slow pace.

As for the championship games Sunday and Monday, I am standing by my original brackets. While the rest of my picks have been well below average, I had Baylor over UConn in the women’s tournament and Michigan State over Virginia in the men’s tournament so those are the predictions I’m sticking with.

Make sure to find plenty of time over the weekend to watch all of these games because by this time next week, there will be no more college basketball for the 2018-19 season. And then the waiting will begin. 

 

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for The Tribune.