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NCAA Tournament 2015 - A Rugged Final Four Set, Tournament Heads For A Big Finish

With Duke, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Michigan State advancing, fans are in for a big time.

Mar 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Justise Winslow (12) is helped up by center Jahlil Okafor (15) and guard Quinn Cook (2) after scoring against the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Mar 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Justise Winslow (12) is helped up by center Jahlil Okafor (15) and guard Quinn Cook (2) after scoring against the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

So the Final Four is set, and the favorite is clear: it's Kentucky. At 38-0, why not? Of course they're favored.

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Being favored and finishing are not the same thing, however. If it were, it would all be done by polls and consensus and we wouldn't need this wonderful tournament.

Kentucky will have to take out Wisconsin first, and that won't be as easy, particularly not if Sam Dekker continues to shoot the way he did against Arizona.

In retrospect, Duke caught a break at Wisconsin because Dekker, still dealing with an ankle injury, wasn't fully healthy.

Against Duke, Dekker was 2-5; in the next game, against Steve Wojciechowski's Marquette, he was just 1-5. A couple of weeks later, completing a Blue Devil trifecta, he was 4-11 against Bobby Hurley's Buffalo.

His shooting was up and down during the Big Ten season, but he got hot during the tournament: 8-15 against Coastal Carolina, 6-12 against Oregon, 10-15 against UNC and 8-11 against Arizona.

He's 32-54 during the tournament and 13-27 from three point range.

Someone has to follow him around, which opens up the inside a bit more.

And unlike a lot of teams, Wisconsin has another big guy you have to deal with in Frank Kaminsky. And while Nigel Hayes is not as big at 6-7, he is 250, and like his frontcourt mates, he can shoot out to three point range.

As for the other side of the bracket, Duke and Michigan State have tangled once this year, in the third game of the season for the Blue Devils and the second for Michigan State.

That was a lifetime ago for both teams though, and many things are different now.

Jahlil Okafor had an outstanding game the first time around, shooting 8-10 for 17 points with nine rebounds.

In the last two games of the tournament though, Utah held him to six points and Gonzaga limited the young big man to nine.

And as we said, since February 10th, the Spartans have lost three times, once to Minnesota in overtime and twice to fellow Big Ten Final Four participant Wisconsin - and the Big Ten title game went to overtime.

Since February 22nd, Michigan State has beaten Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisville - and taken Wisconsin to overtime.

It's a team that's peaking at the right time.

Logically, it's the underdog in the Final Four, but instinctively we all know that Tom Izzo can coach with anyone.

Still, this is probably the team with the weakest interior. We've seen Matt Costello do some really smart things this tournament, but he's averaging 7.1 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Fellow post Gavin Schilling is putting up 5.2 ppg and grabbing 3.9 rpg.

That's 12.3 ppg and 8.9 rpg, so between them that's respectable. The other three teams have All-American post players, so the Spartans are at a disadvantage.

But Michigan State does what Izzo-coached teams tend to do so well: defend, rebound and play very well together. And while post play is not this team's strong point, between Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson, Bryn Dawson and Lourawls Nairn, Jr., the Spartans have a lot of athletes to throw at you.

So three #1 seeds and one #7 made the Final Four, two Big Ten teams, one ACC and the only competent Southeastern Conference representative in undefeated Kentucky.

We realize, as we said, that UK is to be favored. But we wouldn't write off Wisconsin just yet and whoever plays on Monday night is going to have earned it.