The Final Four: A historic weekend in the making

By Eli Schwadron

Four storied programs — Michigan State, Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky — will take the floor this weekend in Indianapolis for the biggest event in college basketball. But before I preview what’s sure to be an edge-of-one’s-seat Final Four, let’s take a second to reflect on what’s already happened.

As is seemingly the case every year, it’s been a roller coaster of an NCAA tournament, and we’ve had some truly memorable moments. Two weeks after the opening tip, it’s still the round of 64 that sticks out the most. Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter sinking Baylor at the buzzer, UCLA’s edging SMU on a controversial goaltending call and UAB’s upsetting Iowa State were prime examples of why there’s nothing quite like the excitement on day one of March Madness.

While the opening round was easily the most entertaining, the Elite Eight provided two of the tournament’s best games. Michigan State and Louisville went to overtime in the East region after 40 minutes of intense action between two teams whose coaches, Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino, respectively, know the month of March like the back of their hands. The Spartans jumped out to an early lead in the extra period, and Branden Dawson’s ridiculous putback on Bryn Forbes’ missed three-pointer put MSU up 74-70 with 28 seconds remaining to seal the deal.

Meanwhile, over in the Midwest region, Notre Dame gave Kentucky its first real challenge of the tournament. The Irish led UK for much of the game, but Goliath, a.k.a. the Kentucky Wildcats, were picture perfect in the latter portion of the second half.

The tournament favorite shot 9-for-9 throughout the final 12 minutes (and 75 percent for the entire half) and completely blanketed Jerian Grant on his potential game-winning three-ball at the end of regulation. Notre Dame “emptied the tank” as head coach Mike Brey put it in the post-game press conference, and it still wasn’t enough to beat John Calipari’s squad. I would be shocked if the Wildcats don’t finish off their historic season with a 40-0 record.

I’ve written about Maryland as a team to look out for in the tournament all year long, and my hometown Terrapins let me down in a loss to West Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen. UMD lost by 10, but the final score doesn’t accurately depict the Mountaineers’ sheer dominance two Sundays ago in Columbus, Ohio. It certainly didn’t help Maryland’s cause when freshman point guard Melo Trimble was forced to sit out the final 8:25 of regulation with a concussion.

At least Terp fans can find solace in the fact that Diamond Stone — the 6-foot-10, 250-pound, five-star center out of Milwaukee — committed to UMD this past weekend. With Trimble set to return for his sophomore campaign, head coach Mark Turgeon’s bunch should vie for the Big Ten championship. It’s surprising that Stone — the nation’s seventh-ranked player in the class of 2015 — chose to play collegiate ball in College Park instead of Madison with his in-state Wisconsin Badgers. But that’s a testament to Turgeon and the type of season he had with Trimble at the helm.

Now on to Indianapolis. Duke takes on Sparty in the first game of Saturday’s double-header, and I’m inclined to pick Michigan State in this one. Heading into the tournament, we all knew that MSU wasn’t the typical seven seed; as I said, Izzo is synonymous with the month of March. Point guard Travis Trice has been the go-to guy for State in the tourney and I don’t see that stopping in Indy.

Trice is doing his best Shabazz Napier impression — the current Heat guard led the seventh-seeded Connecticut Huskies to the promised land last year. The chemistry that Trice, Dawson and Denzel Valentine have developed over the course of the season has been amazing to watch.

I wrote prior to the NCAA tournament that out of any team in the field Wisconsin had the best shot to knock off Kentucky. But I don’t see the Badgers actually pulling it off. The Notre Dame game was a reality check for the Wildcats, and something tells me UK will be locked in from here on out, just as they were for the final minutes in Saturday’s win over the Irish. What’s so interesting about this team is its depth — 2014-15 Kentucky will go down as arguably the best and most complete team ever when it cuts down the nets Monday night. 

Kentucky’s team of future NBAers will remain perfect and get to 40-0. Calipari’s Cats will capture their second national title in four years.

Eli is a junior in Media.

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@eschwad