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Joe Boozell | | April 6, 2019

Final Four 2019: Predictions and previews of the key matchups

Virginia's road to redemption continues into Minneapolis

The 2019 Final Four might be missing a few traditional powerhouses, but there is plenty to look forward to.

Let's predict and break down both games.

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 5 Auburn

6:09 p.m. Eastern, CBS | Stream it here

The best way to beat the Virginia defense is to shoot over the top of it (like Carsen Edwards), or beat it in transition. Auburn can do both of those things. The Tigers make 38.3 percent of their 3s as a team, and they've been on fire throughout the NCAA tournament.

And their guards are fast. Auburn made North Carolina look slow, which is the ultimate compliment to its collective quickness. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown are blurs, and when they are making 3s, they are not guardable.

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This is not a good matchup for Virginia. That said, it's still tough to pick against Virginia based on both teams' overall resumes and talent. The Chuma Okeke loss didn't hurt Auburn much in the Kentucky game, but it could sting against the Cavaliers because of De'Andre Hunter. At 6-8, 230 pounds with good length, Okeke would have been an ideal guy to throw at Hunter, who could feast against an undersized Tigers front line without him.

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The best thing about Auburn's defense is its ability to force turnovers; the Tigers lead the country in forced turnover rate. But Virginia is one of the most well-disciplined teams in the country. The Hoos only cough it up on 14.7 percent of their possessions, which ranks 11th in the nation. Anything can happen in a 40-minute game, and we know Virginia is prone to straying from its identity in the tournament in recent years. But for now, we should expect Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Kihei Clark and the rest of the team to secure the ball like they normally do.

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This is more about Virginia's offense than its defense, because the Tigers rely so much on their defense to create transition scoring opportunities and fastbreak 3s. It's a lot harder to run when you're taking the ball out of the hoop.

If the Cavaliers can take care of the rock and exploit Hunter's isolation abilities, they will be in good shape.

Prediction: Virginia 72, Auburn 67

No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Texas Tech

8:49 p.m. Eastern, CBS  | Stream it here 

Such a fun matchup. If there's a theme within these Final Four teams, it's discipline. These squads just don't screw up often, and  that's an extremely valuable characteristic that will help you win a lot of games.

The argument for Texas Tech: it has the best player on the floor in Jarrett Culver (although Cassius Winston is close), and its defense is the best unit of the four in this game. The Red Raiders faced the No. 1 offense in Gonzaga in the Elite Eight and held it to 69 points. Chris Beard is an absolute mastermind on that end, and Texas Tech is one of the toughest teams in the country.

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Michigan State might be the toughest team in the country, and Tom Izzo is easily the most experienced coach in the Final Four. And while Culver may be a hair better than Winston overall, Winston has more opportunities to impact the game offensively since he's a point guard. The Spartans don't have any standout players (though Xavier Tillman has been brilliant all tournament and is approaching that status), but they have several competent pieces with which they surround a stud point guard. That'll play.

We're splitting hairs here. Texas Tech has plenty of guys to throw at Winston; Michigan State has the bodies to contain Culver. There are no obvious mismatches to exploit when you look at both lineups.

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But the Red Raiders have been so good lately. Texas Tech has ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency for most of the season, but the offense has been nearly as good since the start of February. The Red Raiders were outside of the top 75 in offense for a decent chunk of the season, but are up to 30th now. They look like a champion on both sides of the floor.

Join Texas Tech on their road to the Final Four

Texas Tech has a little more oompf thanks to Culver's two-way dominance and the general excellence of the defense. But this could easily go the other way.

Prediction: Texas Tech 65, Michigan State 63

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