It’s hard to ignore the signs that March Madness is coming to an end. The fire hose–like stream of games has been reduced to a trickle, office recycling bins overflow with discarded brackets, and, uh, it’s actually April. Nevertheless, three games remain in the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia avenged last year’s first-round humiliation, but, to truly finish the redemption story, the Cavaliers must contend with yet another underdog in Auburn. The other side of the bracket features March Madness royalty in Tom Izzo and Michigan State, but the Spartans will have to do what no one else in the tournament has managed and solve Texas Tech and the nation’s best defense.
Those games will decide who appears in next Monday’s National Championship game, and the potential outcomes provide four very different finales. Will it be a free-scoring bacchanal of roundball delight? Or, will Virginia be involved? What follows is a scientific list, ranked in descending order, detailing how each matchup ranks in terms of entertainment value.
4. Texas Tech vs. Virginia.
If you’ve ever wanted to see a concrete bomb shelter fight a glacier, then this is the matchup for you. The Red Raiders subject their opponents to a cruel, B.F. Skinner–like psychological experiment wherein they withhold all scoring chances. In the Sweet Sixteen, Texas Tech restricted Michigan to just 16 first-half points, and you have to wonder whether the poor Wolverines are able to even look at a basketball anymore without collapsing into a shivering heap.
Virginia, meanwhile, thrives in austerity. According to Kenpom.com, the Cavaliers play at a slower tempo than any other team in Division I basketball. A game between Virginia and Texas Tech would be like a rock fight with boulders. Sure, there’d be a winner, but do you really want to watch five dudes spend 40 minutes methodically constructing a pulley system to move the stones into place?
3. Michigan State vs. Virginia.
This game would be interesting, so it’s a good sign that it’s the second-worst national championship possibility. Both teams are experienced, cohesive, and well-coached. Spartans point guard Cassius Winston is one of the smoothest and smartest players in college basketball, and we’d be lucky to watch him work the locks on Virginia’s defense.
But good teams don’t necessarily make for good games. Want to know another game that was played between two experienced, cohesive, and well-coached programs? The 2011 National Championship, when Connecticut beat Butler, 53–41. It was a chess match in that it reminded everyone why chess matches aren’t broadcast on network television.
CBS probably wants this showdown between two marquee programs for ratings purposes, but in terms of potential entertainment, we could all do better.
2. Texas Tech vs. Auburn.
An Auburn–Texas Tech title game would be a most unlikely matchup. Neither school exactly screams “basketball,” and the only other opportunity you’ll get to see the Red Raiders take on the Tigers in a big game will probably be in the Capital One Bowl. But novelty is fun, and this is a March Madness odd couple worth cheering for.
Go to the Apple Store and play music on every single device at the same time and at full volume. Take note of the panicked, desperate employees as they scramble to end the ear-splitting cacophony. That’s what it’s like to play against Auburn. You can’t hope to stop them all at once, so you eventually just succumb to the chaos.
The Tigers’ path to the Final Four saw them chop up college’s blue bloods with Theranos-like impatience. They destroyed Kansas and North Carolina before slipping past Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Auburn’s biggest nail-biter came in the first round, against New Mexico State, in one of the most bizarre games of March. They only know how to be exciting, and you should root for the chance to watch them play two more times.
Besides overwhelming defense, Texas Tech boasts the tournament’s most talented remaining player. Sophomore guard Jarrett Culver has a shot at being a Top 3 pick in this year’s NBA draft.
Culver might be in a New York Knicks jersey the next time you see him, so please don’t take these games for granted.
1. Michigan State vs. Auburn.
There’s a lot to love about this matchup. Auburn attempted the second-most 3-pointers in all of Division I basketball this year, and Michigan State had the most assists in the country. These are two different yet effective offenses, and we should be so lucky as to see them play chicken on the grandest possible stage.
As an added bonus, this game also features a Pacific Rim–style battle between two of the reddest and maddest coaches in the land. Izzo’s blown gasket during the first game of the tournament was the subject of its very own news cycle, and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl has never been one to shy away from a sweaty, televised meltdown. Sure, the championship would be fun, but the real show will be on the sidelines starring these apoplectic ham hocks.
Now that’s entertainment.