It's been a long hard fought season for Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State but tonight's match-ups will define college careers. A win and there's only one more step until your team is lifting the trophy with confetti flying by your face in Indianapolis.
Mike Krzyzewski versus Tom Izzo headlines the first contest but two seniors, Travis Trice and Quinn Cook, are looking to lead their teams to the promise land. And then a 39-0 record is possible for Kentucky while the Badgers try to amend last year's Final Four disappointment against the Wildcats.
It doesn't get any better than these powerhouse programs and future lottery picks that are about to battle in Indianapolis for the right to advance to the dream stage on Monday night.
How/Where to watch
6:09 pm ET TBS #1 Duke vs. #7 Michigan State (Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson)
Approx. 8:49 pm ET TBS #1 Kentucky vs. #1 Wisconsin (Nantz, Raftery, Hill, Wolfson)
#1 Duke Blue Devils vs. #7 Michigan State Spartans
The Blue Devils have been very impressive during this NCAA Tournament and it all starts with Jahlil Okafor. Okafor struggled against the bigger front lines he faced (Utah and Gonzaga) in Houston but his presence in the paint forces double-teams and creates open three pointers for his teammates. He is one of the best passing big men in the country and his footwork in the paint is the best college basketball has seen since Tim Duncan.
On top of Okafor's success, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook have been rock solid at the guard position (they rarely turn the ball over) and Justice Winslow has been all over the court, stuffing the stat sheet.
But the defense has also been a huge difference for the Blue Devils in this postseason event. Okafor was anything but a rim protector during the regular season but in the last four games he has blocked shots and played better against pick-and-roll play. Cook has guarded the opposing teams best player and the senior has locked them up, forcing them to turn the ball over or take a tough contested shot.
On the other side, the seven seeded Spartans have turned the lights on in March (cough Tom Izzo cough) and Travis Trice has been phenomenal. Trice has scored more than 15 points and hasn't turned the ball over more than four times in four games during the Big Dance after scoring only six points on 2-for-8 shooting in Michigan State's loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Spartans are excellent in transition and they have also improved defensively but the big factor for their success is experience and health.
Back in November when Duke and Michigan State faced off in the Champions Classic, Bryn Forbes (hand) and Alvin Ellis III (ankle) were banged up, which affected the depth of Izzo's squad. Now with everyone healthy and 10 juniors or seniors working hard on the court or supporting their teammates on the bench the Spartans have forgotten about their loss at home to Texas Southern and the "7" that is next to their name.
#1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. #1 Wisconsin Badgers
This has been the most anticipated game since the bracket was unveiled in the middle of March. These teams faced off last year in the same position and the Wildcats won on a late three by Aaron Harrison.
This season is a whole different story though as the Wildcats come into this game with an undefeated, 38-0, record and the Badgers are coming off a fantastic win over Arizona where Sam Dekker played flawless.
Kentucky nearly was beaten by Mike Brey and Notre Dame in the Elite Eight as the Irish put forward the perfect game plan. They used their spread offense to pull Karl Anthony-Towns, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and the rest of the Wildcats big men away from the basket. They also put Jerian Grant in the best position to succeed: The pick-and-roll. Even though Cauley-Stein is excellent defensively on the perimeter, Notre Dame went after Towns and was able to finish at the rim.
Wisconsin can spread the floor but how well will that game plan work again against Calipari? And how is Frank Kaminsky going to play against the best defender in college basketball in Cauley-Stein?
Dekker, who scored 27 and 23 in his last two outings, has to score more than 20 points but Nigel Hayes also has to stay out of foul trouble. If Wisconsin is also able to hit their open shots and get solid point guard play from Bronson Koenig, it will be the perfect recipe for a huge upset and a classic showdown between the two best teams in college basketball.