The 2019 March Madness Final Four is finally here and the festivities begin with #1 Virginia Cavaliers (33-3) vs. Bruce Pearl and the #5 Auburn Tigers (30-9) in the opening game.
Virginia is the only #1 seed remaining in the tournament. Gonzaga and Duke busted in the Elite 8, while Auburn picked off North Carolina in the Sweet 16.
Virginia is also the only ACC team remaining. Virginia battled with Duke and North Carolina all season for first place in the ACC. When the tournament committee sat down to select teams this year, they awarded the ACC with three top seeds. Virginia got the #1 seed in the South regional, with Duke #1 in the East and UNC #1 in the Midwest.
Auburn is the only SEC school remaining in the tournament. Although the SEC did not have any #1 seeds, both Tennessee and Kentucky were #2 seeds and LSU got the #3 seed. Auburn was not even in the top three teams from the SEC, yet Bruce Pearl and the Tigers outlasted their conference mates with a magical run. Auburn faded an opening-round upset when they defeated #12 New Mexico State by one point. They spanked #4 Kansas by 14 points, crushed #1 Carolina by 17 in the Sweet 16, and picked off #2 Kentucky in overtime 77-71 in the Elite 8.
#5 Auburn Tigers (30-9) vs. #1 Virginia Cavaliers (33-3)
Tip-Off: 3:09pm PT, Saturday April 6, 2019
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Point Spread: -5.5
Virginia boasts the best defense in the nation allowing only 55.4 points per game. They held their first three March Madness opponents to 52 points or less. They defeated #3 Purdue in a wild shootout that required an overtime session.
Virginia comes into the Final Four as a 5.5-point favorite. In their last 17 games as a 6-point favorite or less, UVA went 15-2 against the point spread.
Virginia is on a mission after an embarrassing knockout last season. Tony Bennett’s squad had the #1 seed going into 2018 March Madness, but the unthinkable happened. The Cavs lost to the #16 seed, which had never happened before in the history of March Madness. UMBC pulled off a historic upset and the Cavs were left stunned. A loss like that could destroy morale and ruin a team, however, Bennett’s squad used the crushing defeat as a huge lesson in humility.
This time around, Virginia came into the tournament prepared to go all the way. The Cavs had the top-ranked defense in the country and they came to play in the opening rounds against #16 Gardner-Webb, #9 Oklahoma, and #12 Oregon. The Ducks were playing the role of Cinderella this year, but Virginia stomped them out in a low-scoring affair 53-49.
Virginia could not stop Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. The guard put on one of the most daring performances in recent memory. Edwards dropped 42 points and hit 10 three-pointers with at least half of them from NBA-range. UVA shut down the rest of the team though and Edwards ran out of gas in overtime.
The Cavs were lucky enough to have a pair of juniors that can shoot the lights out. Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome were the antidote to Edwards. They combined for 49 points and nine treys against Purdue. Guy snapped out of his shooting funk (3-for-26 from downtown) to lead UVA with 25 points and 10 rebounds in the Elite 8
Virginia has a potential NBA lottery pick with De’Andre Hunter, who plays hard on both ends of the court. He averages 15 points per game, but had an off night against Purdue. Hunter will be the X-factor for Virginia if they expect to be playing in the championship game on Monday night.
Two Fierce Tigers
Chuma Okeke, the emotional leader of Auburn, blew out his knee in the second half of the Sweet 16 game against North Carolina. Auburn upset the #1 seeded UNC, but the victory came at a huge price because they lost Okeke for the rest of the season.
Bruce Pearl’s resilient squad stepped up to fill in for Okeke. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown have become a reliable duo for Auburn. The backcourt mates combined for 50 points in the win over SEC foe Kentucky.
Harper is also the Ice Man at the charity stripe. He’s an 83 percent free throw shooter, but he hit a perfect 11-for-11 from the line in several high-pressure moments against UK. He’s 17-for-17 in his last three games. In the SEC Championship against Tennessee, Harper knocked down all six of his free throws and he went 21-for-24 overall in the SEC tourney.
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, Auburn is the long shot on the board at 6/1 odds to win 2019 March Madness. Virginia is the favorite right now at +140 to win the championship.