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Grimes: Previewing the Final Four

After a couple weeks of thrilling basketball and unexpected outcomes, only four teams remain in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Three of the four teams —Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Duke — are number one seeds. Rounding out the remaining field is Michigan State, who is playing the part of the underdog while occupying a No. 7 seed. All four teams have showed flashes of a championship caliber, but they will be put to the test this weekend in the gauntlet that is the Final Four.

Michigan State #7 (27-11) vs. Duke #1 (33-4)

These teams played against each other early in the season, Nov. 18, when Duke prevailed to win in the Champions Classic by a score of 81-71. That Michigan State loss marked the eighth out of their last nine games against Duke. Duke is anticipated to triumph over Michigan State yet again, as the Blue Devils are favored by five points.

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Keys to victory

Duke must shoot the 3-ball well in order to maintain their high-powered offense. Out of the Final Four teams, Duke has had the highest 3-point shooting percentage (.429) in the tournament, while averaging seven 3-pointers a game.  In their aforementioned win against Michigan State, Duke shot an impressive 50 percent from behind the line (7-14). If Duke can generate 20+ points from behind the line, then they will find themselves in the championship game. On the other hand, if Duke struggles from 3-point land, then their offense will be severely inefficient, and they might come up short of another title appearance. In their most recent loss of the season, a 10-point loss to Notre Dame March 13, Duke shot a less-than-stellar 17.6 percent from behind the line (3 for 17). Duke has gotten to this point of the season by lighting it up from 3-point territory, so the hope of advancing will be attained through the long ball.

This will be a tough game for Michigan State, and they will need to do a lot of things well to come out on top. One area of play that has been a thorn in the side of the Spartans is their poor free throw shooting. Michigan State’s free throw shooting percentage in the tournament thus far, .625, is better than only 12 of the 68 teams that started in the tournament field. In their win over Louisville, to advance to the Final Four, Michigan State shot 75 percent from the line, which was an improvement from their 62.5 percent average. Tom Izzo’s squad will have to continue to improve this stat if they want any chance at winning this game.

Wisconsin #1 (34-3) vs. Kentucky #1 (38-0)

These two teams will meet for the first time this season, as Wisconsin will look to hand Kentucky its only loss on the season. This will be a match-up for the ages, considering Wisconsin has one of the nation’s best scoring offenses, which has scored the most points per game (80.5) out of teams that have played more than one game in the tournament. Kentucky will counter this offense by boasting one of the nation’s better defensive groups that has averaged 40.5 rebounds per game and 7.5 blocks per game.

Keys to Victory

This is a really simple offense versus defense battle. If the Wisconsin offense can be the first team to have its way with Kentucky, then the Wildcats will be left thinking about what could have been.

The Final Four teams will square off on Saturday in Indianapolis. Michigan State will face Duke at 4:09 p.m., and Wisconsin will take on Kentucky at 6:49 p.m.

Thanks for making time for Grimes.

Collegian Sports Reporter Alec Grimes can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @GrimesAlec.

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