We preview the 2015 NCAA tournament Final Four
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We utilized the WhatIfSports.com college basketball simulation engine to play out the Final Four 1,001 times. Check out our Predictions, including full boxscores and play-by-play. We also generated each team's probability of reaching and winning the championship game.
Kentucky vs. Wisconsin
Remember that time pundits predicted West Virginia to challenge Kentucky in the Sweet 16? Yeah, about that...The game was over in eight minutes, when Kentucky had built an 18-2 lead. The Wildcats never looked back, obliterating West Virginia 78-39 to advance to the Elite Eight. There, UK received the challenge it had been promised, as Notre Dame gave the Cats everything they could handle. The score was close from tip-off to final buzzer, with no team leading by more than six points. Andrew Harrison buried a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining to give Kentucky the 68-66 win and its fourth Final Four appearance in five years.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin blazed ahead behind the duo of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Kaminsky's received the bulk of accolades, but Dekker could make a strong case for the tournament's most outstanding player through four games. He's average 21.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting, including 13-of-27 three-point shooting. And Dekker saved his best games for the biggest stage, going for 23 points and 10 rebounds in a Sweet 16 win over North Carolina and dropping 27 points against Arizona. If Dekker can stay hot, he and Kaminsky (averaging 22.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in the NCAA tournament) could spell trouble for the Wildcats.
A Final Four victory for Wisconsin would be all kinds of sweet. It would avenge last season's Final Four loss to UK, when Aaron Harrison hit a late three to knock off the Badgers 74-73. It would also end Kentucky's quest for a perfect season, which Wisconsin fans would no doubt relish. But perhaps most importantly, a Final Four victory would send Wisconsin to its first national title game since 1941.
Kentucky has ambitions of its own though, namely continuing its quest for an NCAA championship and a 40-0 season. Willie Cauley-Stein will be tasked with slowing down fellow AP First Team All-American Kaminsky, while a slew of Wildcats could see time guarding Dekker. Notre Dame is the most recent team to demonstrate that Kentucky can be beaten, but it will take a near-perfect performance to topple the Cats.
The pick: Kentucky 69 - Wisconsin 65
Michigan State vs. Duke
Consider for a moment the caliber of coaches remaining in the Final Four. Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, John Calipari and Bo Ryan have combined for 27 Final Four appearances (if we ignore Calipari's vacated stints). And yet, even when Coach K is compared to some of the most successful active coaches, his achievements dwarf theirs. Krzyzewski has led Duke to eight national championship games, five more than second-place Calipari. When it comes to experience on the big stage, no one can touch Coach K.
Final Four Coaches
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That expertise was invaluable in wins over Utah and Gonzaga. Freshman Jahlil Okafor was neutralized in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, as he was denied a double-digit scoring output in both games, a feat that had previously happened only once all season. It forced the Blue Devils to lean on freshman forward Justise Winslow, who responded with 37 points between the two games.
In the East region, Michigan State continued to ignore its No. 7 seed, knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Louisville. Against the Sooners, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine scored the team's last 14 points and combined for 42 of the Spartans' 62 total points. The pair again led Michigan State in scoring in an OT win over Louisville.
In order to advance to the title game, the Spartans will need to find a way to contain Okafor, easily the most talented big man they've faced in the tournament. Trice and Valentine will again channel the offense and will need to maintain their efficient play. It could all be for naught, though, as Duke may simply be too talented to overcome.
The pick: Duke 75 - Michigan State 71
Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.