Final Four prediction: Izzo, Spartans will cut down the nets

  • Nick Celario

As is the usual every year, my NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket was thoroughly busted.

I had predicted Duke, North Carolina, Michigan and Purdue to reach the Final Four. None of those predictions came true.

My bracket took its first huge hit when UNC was eliminated in the Sweet 16 by Auburn.

Last Saturday, I was feeling confident that one of my picks, Purdue, would reach the Final Four when they led against Virginia in the final minute — that was until Mamadi Diakite hoisted a game-tying jumper at the buzzer to force overtime. And, of course, Purdue lost.

The last nail in the coffin was when Duke, who I had pegged to win the national championship by riding the coattails of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Co., lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight.

(Side note: congrats to TGI page designer and resident Michigan State fan Paul Curtis. Too bad you’ll be working during the game, but good luck to your Spartans.)

Maybe it was natural that the Blue Devils lost in crunch time when they had survived in the final seconds to win in their previous two matchups. That kind of magic can’t last forever.

Duke survived against Central Florida and escaped with a 77-76 win.

(Another side note: UCF quarterback and former Mililani High QB McKenzie Milton recently said to the Orlando Sentinel he aims for a return to football in 2020 after suffering a horrendous leg injury that suddenly ended a career-defining 2018 season. I’m sure there are plenty fans around the state who want nothing more than to see you back on the field. I wish you well in your recovery.)

Then in the Sweet 16, Duke again survived to beat Virginia Tech, 75-73.

In both of those games, UCF and Virginia Tech had the final possession and ended up missing their last shots at the buzzer.

Heartbreaking for both of those teams, particularly Central Florida. Had either B.J. Taylor or Aubrey Dawkins made their last-second attempts, UCF beating Duke would probably have been remembered as one of the greatest upsets in tournament history.

So, here we are. Your Final Four teams are No. 1 seed Virginia out of the South Region, No. 2 Michigan State out of the East, No. 3 Texas Tech out of the West and No. 5 Auburn out of the Midwest.

Both Virginia and Michigan State were ranked highly by the end of the regular season, so no surprises that they’re in the Final Four.

But, seriously, did any of you predict Auburn or Texas Tech to win their regions?

How about that? A couple of schools, more known for their football programs, are in the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.

It’s not exactly like Loyola of Chicago’s underdog run to the Final Four from last year, but still, it’s great to see parity in the tournament.

So, my picks in the national semifinals? Rather boring, but I’m going with Michigan State topping Texas Tech and Virginia beating Auburn to reach the championship game.

And then in that championship final, I’ve got the Spartans cutting down the nets. I’ll take Tom Izzo winning his second national title as head coach of Michigan State.

But, can you imagine if Auburn and Texas Tech upset the basketball powerhouses to reach the championship game? Perhaps that, too, would be a fitting end to March Madness.

Enjoy the games, everyone.

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Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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