NCAA men’s basketball: Final Four, National Championship predictions

By Northern Star staff

Only four teams — No. 1 Kentucky, No. 1 Wisconsin, No. 7 Michigan State and No. 1 Duke — remain heading into the final weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The Big Ten was supposedly in a down year yet it has two teams in Wisconsin and Michigan State alive in the home stretch of the season. Duke has emerged out of the loaded ACC and boasts a variety of options. Finally, who could forget Kentucky, the team that hasn’t lost yet and looks to become the first undefeated national champion — and eighth overall — since Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers squad that went 32-0.

Each of the four teams has a legitimate shot to be crowned champions, and the Northern Star Sports staff takes a stab at picking the winner.

Sports Editor Frank Gogola

Duke vs. Michigan State: Duke makes Michigan State look like the seventh seed it is, winning convincingly. Duke 71, Michigan State 60

Kentucky vs. Wisconsin: Kentucky slows down Wisconsin’s torrid shooting enough and pulls out another close victory. Kentucky 70, Wisconsin 66

National Championship: The pressure doesn’t get to Kentucky on the biggest stage as it plays its best game of the season on both ends of the floor to ensure its place in the records books at 40-0.

Sports Writer Steve Shonder

Duke vs. Michigan State: The Spartans got hot at the right time, and I just don’t believe in Duke enough to ever pick them. Michigan State 68, Duke 63

Kentucky vs. Wisconsin: This is the biggest tossup of the tournament so far, but I think Wisconsin’s shooters will make the difference against Kentucky’s stifling defense. Wisconsin 71, Kentucky 70

National Championship: The Badgers will turn it on at the right time to make this rematch of the Big Ten Championship game a repeat in the result. Wisconsin 65, Michigan State 58

Sports Writer Christopher Loggins

Duke vs. Michigan State: Head coach Tom Izzo has Michigan State getting hot at the right time. Michigan State 50, Duke 46

Kentucky vs Wisconsin: Kentucky’s size up front along with head coach John Calipari’s coaching is too much to handle and there’s an undefeated season on the line. Kentucky 59, Wisconsin 51

National Championship: Unless Michigan State can hit outside shots it won’t win. Kentucky’s too poised right now.

Sports Writer Patrick Smith

Duke vs. Michigan State: Michigan State always seems to make it deep in the tournament with this being their fourth Final Four appearance in the last 10 years; however, they haven’t been successful once reaching this point with their last title coming in 2000. Duke will be too much for the Spartans to handle. Duke has stars and future NBA players on its team with Jahlil Okafor controlling the paint at center, Justise Winslow slashing through defenses, Quinn Cook shooting the ball lights out from the 3-point line and Tyus Jones, the star freshman point guard, being the floor general and controlling the pace of the game. If Michigan State is going to win Branden Dawson is going to have to go bonkers inside the paint and Travis Trice will have to have an outstanding game on defense and offense, but I don’t see that happening. Duke 75, Michigan State 63

Kentucky vs. Wisconsin: Wisconsin will avenge last year’s loss to Kentucky, ending Kentucky’s pursuit at perfection. The Badgers will win this game because Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky and Sam Dekker will have exceptional games against the younger and inexperienced Wildcats. It won’t easy, especially since the big men of Kentucky are superior athletes and tenacious defenders, but Kaminsky and Dekker have the ability to stretch out the defense and space out the floor, creating easy opportunities for the rest of the team. Kentucky is a poor defensive rebounding team, and Wisconsin will feast on the second-chance opportunities. Wisconsin 71, Kentucky 66

National Championship: The title game will be a rematch of the Dec. 3 ACC/Big Ten challenge, which Duke won, 80-70, on the road. Okafor and Kamisky will have big games, but this game will be won by the Duke backcourt of Cook and Jones with Jones winning the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award. Duke 78, Wisconsin 73