Franklin: Get to Know Every Starter in the Final Four
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar and Horace Spencer
- Before betting on the Final Four matchups Saturday, you might want to get to know the players a bit better.
- Drew Franklin breaks down the starters from each of the four remaining teams.
It is the Final Four we all predicted. The four best teams in college basketball. Michigan State and Texas Tech in one semifinal. Virginia and Auburn in the other. College basketball’s grand prize is on the line and only one of those four teams will be left standing when NCAA president Mark Emmert hands over the hardwood late Monday night, once the confetti has fallen from the ceiling of U.S. Bank Stadium.
I would love to tell you the team that will be there in the end; unfortunately, I do not possess that kind of fortune-telling power. I do, however, know a little bit about all five starters on each team, which may be beneficial in how you make your picks and watch the games.
Ty Jerome: Jerome leads Virginia in scoring in the tournament at 15.5 points per game. He went for 24 with seven assists in the Elite 8 win over Purdue.
Kyle Guy: Guy, Virginia’s leading scorer on the season, got engaged to his longtime girlfriend over a year ago, but the NCAA told him he cannot have a gift registry if he wants to keep his eligibility. He may not be getting any wedding gifts, but he did lead the ACC in 3-pointers.
De’Andre Hunter: Hunter is Virginia’s best NBA prospect, currently projected as a fringe top-five pick this summer. He is a versatile, do-it-all forward and may be the difference-maker in the semifinal game against Auburn, considering the mismatch he presents.
Mamadi Diakite: Diakite is the guy with the blond hair who hit the buzzer-beater to keep Virginia’s Final Four hopes alive. Jack Salt started most of the year in this spot, but Diakite took his place in the last three games. He had a career-high 11 rebounds in the Sweet 16 win over Oregon.
Kihei Clark: Virginia is only in the Final Four because Clark was smart enough to push the ball up to Diakite for the buzzer-beater, rather than attempting a halfcourt shot, against Purdue in the Elite 8. Unsung hero for the Wahoos.
Jared Harper: Harper is in on 38% of Auburn’s scoring through either points or assists. I cannot look at him without seeing Marlo Stanfield from The Wire.
Bryce Brown: Brown leads the country with 44 made 3-pointers in transition. His 137 3-pointers on the season is a school record at Auburn (great value on Brown as Final Four’s leading scorer at +600).
Malik Dunbar: Auburn is 11-1 with Malik Dunbar in the starting lineup. Auburn is only 19-8 when he is not. Maybe Bruce Pearl should start Malik Dunbar more often.
Horace Spencer: Spencer is expected to start for only the third time this season. You may recognize him as the guy who attempted the potential game-winning 3-pointer at the end of regulation against Kentucky, when Bryce Brown was open and begging for the ball. It was not a pretty attempt and he is lucky the Tigers survived in OT.
Anfernee McLemore: McLemore’s mother’s name is Cinderella. Cinderella, like a team that advances far past expectations in the NCAA Tournament. Like Auburn.
Cassius Winston: Maybe the best player in the Final Four, Cassius Winston is the Big Ten Player of the Year and a First Team All-American point guard. He ranks third nationally in assists, setting a new Big Ten record for a single season, while scoring at least 20 points in 20 games, plus seven double-doubles in points and assists. I could go all day with Cassius Winston stats and accolades, but you get the point. He is awesome.
Matt McQuaid: McQuade is the shooter. Just ask Michigan. He gave the Wolverines seven 3-pointers in the Big Ten Tournament championship. But since that game, he is only 5-for-16 from deep in the NCAA Tournament. Expect that to change.
Aaron Henry: Henry, a freshman, scored a career-high 20 points and hauled in eight rebounds in the Sweet 16 win over LSU. He was also the player on the receiving end of Tom Izzo’s ‘enthusitatic’ coaching that went viral during the first weekend. I guess he got the message.
Xavier Tillman: Winner of the Big Ten’s Sixth Man Award, Tillman took over for Nick Ward in the starting rotation when Ward went down. Now Ward is back, but Izzo will stick with Tillman, an NCAA East Region All-Tournament Team selection.
Kenny Goins: Kenny Goins hit the 3-pointer that sent Zion Williamson and Duke home from the tournament. Thank you, Kenny Goins. I say that on behalf of all of America.
Matt Mooney: The grad transfer from South Dakota scored 17 points in Texas Tech’s upset of Gonzaga in the Elite 8, but it is his defense that makes him so valuable to the Red Raiders’ backcourt.
Jarrett Culver: The Big 12 Player of the Year and a projected top-five NBA pick, Culver is the Final Four’s leading scorer at 21.5 points per game in the tournament. He leads Texas Tech in points, assists and rebounds this season.
Davide Moretti: Moretti, the pride of Bologna, Italy, ranked second in the country in free throw shooting at 93.3% in the regular season. However, Moretti has already missed two in the tournament on only 13 attempts from the stripe.
Tariq Owens: After stops at Tennessee and St. John’s, Owens landed at Texas Tech for his senior season, and became one of the best shot blockers in the nation, which made him a Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Semifinalist in 2018-19.
Norense Odiase: Odiase played the best game of his career in the second-round win over Buffalo when he recorded his first double-double of the year with a career-high 15 rebounds and a season-high 14 points. He won’t be expected to repeat that performance in the Final Four, but his rebounding will be needed.
I don’t know if any of that will help you in your gambling endeavors, but hopefully you learned a thing or two about the main players of the Final Four.