NCAA Tournament 2019: Ranking the Men's Final Four Teams
After earning thrilling wins in the Elite Eight, the Auburn Tigers, Michigan State Spartans, Texas Tech Red Raiders and Virginia Cavaliers are headed to the 2019 Final Four. The four programs have earned a well-deserved moment in the national spotlight.
Still, you might not be familiar with all of the teams.
What is their biggest strength? Where are they most vulnerable? Who is their best player, and who's an underrated contributor?
Though the actual results on the court may not reflect the rankings, there's a clear hierarchy on paper.
4. Auburn Tigers
Biggest strength: Auburn forces opponents into turnovers at the second-highest rate in the nation. The Tigers have amassed 59 takeaways in the tournament so far and earned a 70-40 edge in points off turnovers with a positive margin in each game.
Biggest weakness: Bruce Pearl's squad is the worst rebounding team remaining, and it's not particularly close. Auburn ranks 230th in total rebound rate. Fortunately for the Tigers, that struggle hasn't doomed them yet. If they're not creating turnovers, though, it could become problematic in a hurry.
Key player: In the Sweet 16, Jared Harper collected nine points and 11 assists. During the Elite Eight, he shredded the box score with 26 points, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Harper must be a stabilizing force offensively, and his disruption is key to creating fast-break chances.
More to know: Auburn will be without star wing Chuma Okeke because of a torn left ACL that happened in the Sweet 16. The Tigers also attempt three-pointers at the eighth-highest rate while ranking 31st nationally with a 37.9 percent long-range clip.
3. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Biggest strength: Defense. Historically so, even. Texas Tech boasts the most efficient unit of the 18-year KenPom.com era. The Red Raiders are third in opponent two-point percentage, eighth in three-point defense and 15th in turnover rate.
Biggest weakness: Comparatively, this offense is the worst in the Final Four. Texas Tech ranks 28th on KenPom, while the others are second, fifth and sixth. Stellar defense atones for some issues, but the Red Raiders are 3-5 when allowing 68-plus points.
Key player: Jarrett Culver is a potential top-three pick in the 2019 NBA draft. He's averaging 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and a combined 3.6 steals and blocks during the NCAA tournament.
More to know: Texas Tech has a couple of underrated stars. Davide Moretti attempts 4.1 triples per game and hits at a 46.3 percent rate, while Tariq Owens ranks 12th nationally with 2.4 blocks per game.
2. Michigan State Spartans
Biggest strength: Cassius Winston spearheads the scoring attack, but the ball doesn't stick anywhere in this offense. Michigan State leads the nation in assist rate. Winston dishes 7.6 per game, while four healthy players average at least 1.6.
Biggest weakness: Turnovers can be a problem for the Spartans, and you never quite know when. For example, MSU's two lowest giveaway rates―versus Duke and LSU in the Elite Eight and Sweet 16, respectively―followed its third-worst game (Minnesota) of the season. Each remaining defense is adept at taking advantage of careless possessions.
Key player: Ball movement drives the Spartans, and Winston is the biggest part of that. But if MSU desperately needs a bucket, he's also the player most capable of creating his own shot. Only 35.6 percent of his field goals are assisted, per Hoop-Math.com.
More to know: Michigan State is sixth in total rebound rate thanks to three players (Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins) who average six-plus boards per game. Matt McQuaid and Winston both attempt four-plus threes and connect at a clip above 40 percent.
1. Virginia Cavaliers
Biggest strength: As usual, defense. For the sixth consecutive season, the unit holds a top-10 standing on KenPom. Virginia is fourth in three-point defense and 20th in opponent assist rate while doing an excellent job keeping opponents off the free-throw line.
Biggest weakness: Playing at a super-slow tempo is partially to blame. However, in past years, what plagued Virginia was losing the perimeter battle and not having enough possessions to mount a comeback. Although the 'Hoos are a minus-eight in three-pointers made in the 2019 tourney, history says UVA cannot afford to let that to continue.
Key player: There are compelling arguments for Ty Jerome or Kyle Guy, and De'Andre Hunter is the most promising NBA prospect. But this March, Jerome has steadied the offense while Guy and Hunter have dealt with quiet performances. Jerome is averaging 15.5 points with a 40.7 three-point mark, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals.
More to know: The 2018-19 squad is the most prolific three-point shooting team of Tony Bennett's tenure. No previous roster made as many threes as this unit. Guy is the high-volume threat, and UVA is hoping its outstanding Elite Eight performance shook an ineffective three-game stretch to begin the tourney.