The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday November 27th

Our sports editors give their picks for this year's Final Four

<p>Sports editors from left to right: Chris Hilburn-Trenkle, Jack Frederick, Ryan Wilcox and Holt McKeithan.</p>
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Sports editors from left to right: Chris Hilburn-Trenkle, Jack Frederick, Ryan Wilcox and Holt McKeithan.

The 2019 Final Four begins on Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn., with Michigan State facing Texas Tech and Virginia going up against Auburn for a spot in the NCAA championship. Here's our sports editors' takes on what will happen, and who will end up cutting down the nets on Monday night.

Ryan's prediction

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo reaffirmed his status as a March wizard last weekend, toppling Zion Williamson and No. 1 overall seed Duke by out-coaching Mike Krzyzewski in the Elite Eight.

The Spartans frustrated the Blue Devils into 17 turnovers and “limited” Williamson to 24 points, forcing Duke’s role players to beat them (they couldn’t). An Izzo-designed play for a Kenny Goins 3-pointer gave Michigan State a lead it would not relinquish and sent Duke fans reeling, wondering how the Spartans pulled off the upset.

With apologies to Virginia's Tony Bennett, Izzo is the best coach in this year's Final Four – and his Spartans will overcome Virginia in the title game to give Izzo his second national title.

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is probably the best player left in the NCAA Tournament, but Michigan State is the best team. I predict Culver and MSU guard Cassius Winston will cancel each other out, leaving Joshua Langford, Nick Ward and others to handle the Raiders in the semifinal. 

And while No. 5 seed Auburn has been a fun story, I have its run coming to an end against Virginia, a team built to limit the Tigers’ fast-paced, run-and-gun style.

But that elusive first NCAA title for Bennett will have to be put on hold. Izzo is the only coach remaining with prior Final Four experience. He’s been there before, and his players, already one of the toughest bunches in college basketball, will be ready for the moment. 

Michigan State 65, Virginia 57

Chris' prediction

Stop me when you've heard this story before. Tom Izzo's Michigan State team enters the NCAA Tournament and surprises the top seed in its region to get to the Final Four, proving its doubters wrong along the way. Then what happens next in this tale? The Spartans lose, whether it be in the national championship or in the national semifinals. 

Michigan State has the best win of the tournament so far (against Duke), but I think it will be hard for Izzo's team to rise up after winning an Elite Eight game that felt like a national championship contest. 

Meanwhile, Texas Tech has flat out smothered its opposition to get here. Yes, Jarrett Culver is the star, but the Red Raiders are far from a one-man show. I was very impressed by the way Texas Tech neutralized Gonzaga, the best offensive team in the country, and I think Chris Beard's team gets to the national title game.

In the other Final Four game, I expect Virginia to win this one by double-digits. Auburn has had a phenomenal run, but without Chuma Okeke I don't like the team's chances against a Virginia squad that is, frankly, just better. 

From there, I think Tony Bennett's team defeats Texas Tech to win the national title. Kyle Guy, who has been shaky for most of the tournament, started to heat up in the second half against Purdue and he will ride that hot streak to winning NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.

Virginia 70, Texas Tech 61

Jack's prediction

No one would have known this at the start of the season, but Auburn has a real shot at winning a national championship this year. In basketball.

Listen, I spent five years of my life living in Auburn, Ala., and this opportunity won’t come around often for that city or university. But this just might be the year. 

I saw first hand in Kansas City just how dangerous the Tigers can be shooting from 3-point range. After a mediocre performance against UNC in the first half, Auburn came out of the break and made 66 percent (I refuse to abide by this new AP Style rule) of its threes in the second half, which is both an astounding and lethal weapon that could take down any of the other teams left standing. 

No matter the talent, basketball in March is about which team is hot. Virginia is another quality basketball team I watched in-person this season, and I’m sure Michigan State and Texas Tech are too. But none of them are quite as hot as the Tigers are right now. 

Auburn hasn’t lost a game since February, which, if you’re keeping track from home, means that was two calendar flips and 12 wins ago. On that run, the Tigers have beaten the top three winningest programs in college basketball — Kansas, Kentucky and UNC — which is nothing to sneeze at, even if the three weren't the best in the country this year.

So count me in on predicting an Auburn national championship. In the last several years, sports feel like they’ve gotten a lot more predictable, especially in basketball.

An Auburn national title would be far from the usual, and it’d also be good for the sport to inspire hope in less-than-famous programs — that they can win the whole dang thing too. 

Auburn 96, Michigan State 89

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