Taking A Defensive Stand In The Final Four

NCAA Tournament Features Three Defensive Dominators in the Final Four

Prior to the NCAA Tournament, I provided an outlook and preview of the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds. Now No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 5 Auburn have reached the Final Four.

As the talking heads on the broadcast networks blasts out opinions on who will win the national championship, the social media buzz  surrounding March Madness and the Final Four continues.

So does our winning ways in point spread prognosis and NCAA Tournament pools,  as it’s been a strong tournament for us and especially during the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. We’ve been riding the Red Raiders since the latter part of the regular season and through the NCAA Tournament.

Here’s a look at the profiles, plays and props I provided on Virginia, Michigan State and Texas Tech. With multiple 75-1 tickets on the Red Raiders to win the National Championship, and all three teams picked to win in my four bracket pools, Fairway’s Forecast has added interest and incentive in this year’s Final Four.

Virginia Cavaliers

Key wins: North Carolina, Florida State, Louisville (2x), Virginia Tech (2x), Syracuse, VCU, Wisconsin, Maryland
Season ATS: 23-9
National Title Odds: 6-1
Twitter: @UVAMensHoops

Overall Record 29-3
ACC Record 16-2
Head Coach Tony Bennett
KenPom Score 1
Adj Off Efficiency 2
Adj Def Efficiency 5

Overview: Year after year since taking over Virginia’s basketball program in 2009, Tony Bennett has proven his elite status in the coaching ranks. Bennett doesn’t get the elite talent or McDonald All-American’s like the blue blood programs, but he molds his teams into cohesive units and his program and personality represents class. Even in the face of the devastating defeat last year becoming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, there was Bennett using the situation and surrounding events as a learning experience for his players and program. Yet the Cavaliers are back again as the ACC regular season champs. Virginia is so fundamentally sound and the players work tirelessly on both ends of the court. Going through the ACC is tough enough, but perhaps Bennett’s teams are worn down towards tournament time with their intensity and status as a defensive dominator throughout the season. That’s why losing in a major conference tournament should not be seen as a downer for top or elite level teams, as they avoid more back-to-back games and any potential fatigue factor for the big dance. Virginia lost in the ACC tournament semifinals, but no concerns. Virginia’s stats are elite, top 5 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, and more balance and scoring with stronger shooters. And the Cavs take care of the basketball, joining Michigan as the top two teams in the country with fewest turnovers per game (9.0). Guard Kyle Guy (15.6 PPG) led the ACC in made 3-pointers and tied for league-best long range shooting at better than 46%. De’Andre Hunter (15.1 PPG) is a potential pro and joins Guy as a 3rd team All-American. Point guard Ty Jerome (13.0 PPG) averaged an ACC-best 5.4 assists per game and has one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the country as he continues his improvement as a NBA prospect. Virginia is a team to pull for, and has the players and parts in place to reach the Final Four in Minneapolis and let the chips fall where they may against teams seen as more talented.

NCAA Tournament odds and point spreads from Las Vegas sportsbooks.

Michigan State Spartans

Key wins: Michigan (2x), Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin (2x), Iowa (2x), Minnesota, Floriday
Season ATS: 23-10
National Title Odds: 12-1
Twitter: @MSU_Basketball

Overall Record 27-6
Big Ten Record 16-4
Head Coach Tom Izzo
KenPom Score 4
Adj Off Efficiency 4
Adj Def Efficiency 9

Overview: Coach Izzo has one of his best teams again and playing their best late in the season. An experienced team with league MVP at point guard in Cassius Winston (minor injuries during conference tourney), the Spartans have great balance inside and out and forward Nick Ward returned just in time for conference tourney. Michigan State is one of four teams in the country that ranks top-15 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. The Spartans lead a number of stat profiles including league-best offensive and defensive shooting, rebounding margin, scoring margin, assists, blocked shots, assist/TO ratio. The Spartans went 13-0 and 12-1 ATS in Dec and Jan., showing their defensive dominance and ability to out-pace even the oddsmaker, finishing an outstanding 23-10 ATS. Michigan State can beat you up-tempo or in the half court and grind you down, and they are a team that can win on the road and showed their strength handing rival Michigan its only home loss. This is the best No. 2 seed of this bunch and a definite Final Four and National Championship contender.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Key wins: Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma (2x), Texas (2x), TCU (2x), Baylor
Season ATS: 15-16-1
National Title Odds: 20-1
Twitter: @TexasTechMBB

Overall Record 26-6
Big 12 Record 14-4
Head Coach Chris Beard
KenPom Score 9
Adj Off Efficiency 35
Adj Def Efficiency 1

Overview: This is the #3 seed I like best, and I picked up the Red Raiders at 75-1 to win the NCAA Tournament just prior to March. Few futures for me, but this one had great value and projection, as Texas Tech is a defensive dominator and No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. Three years ago coach Chris Beard took over at Texas Tech. He’ll take the Red Raiders to their second-straight NCAA Tournament, and have a dangerous sleeper that has balance on offense and the nation’s No. 1 efficiency defense according to Kenpom. Last year TT went to the Elite Eight, but was without their top player when they lost to eventual National Champion Villanova. The co-Big 12 champs lost in this year’s conference tourney in the quarterfinals. That matters very little as the Red Raiders will only be more rested and ready for the big dance. Texas Tech won the Big 12 regular season as co-champs, and were the league’s No. 2 shooting team behind another sleeper Iowa State. The Red Raiders have the Big 12’s No. 2 scorer in Jarrett Culver and No. 1 3-point shooter in fellow guard Davide Moretti, an game icer at the free throw line to close out games hitting 93% FT in league play. Very well-coached by Chris Bears and so many positive stat profiles for Tech, including steals and shot blocking with Tariq Owens inside. Texas Tech finished the regular season playing their best ball on a 9-0 SU/8-1 ATS run while scoring at least 80 points six times. Impressive for a team that does not play fast and features a dominant defense.

Auburn is not winning the national championship, and no further write ups needed.

You can bet on it.

Author: FairwayJay

FairwayJay is a leading national sports analyst and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful handicappers and professionals. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay