This year’s road to the Final Four has contained some of the most exciting moments in recent March Madness history.

No. 4-seed Kansas State losing to No. 13-seed UC Irvine in the first round of the bracket was a giant upset, especially considering Kansas State is the regular season Big 12 champion along with Texas Tech.

Back to the Final Four, both sides of the bracket draw plenty of interest, with each team bringing something unique to the table. Looking at the No. 1-seed Virginia Cavaliers going up against No. 5-seed Auburn, the Tigers have one of the most fascinating stories in the playoffs so far.

Reason No. 1 for this is because it’s the first time the Tigers have advanced past the round of 32 since the 2003 season, according to Auburn Athletics. The second reason is because Auburn successfully defeated a blue-blood program in all three rounds leading up to the Final Four, clinching its first Elite Eight and Final Four appearances in program history.

Auburn took down No. 4-seed Kansas in the round of 32, then in the Sweet 16, the team unexpectedly demolished the No. 1-seed North Carolina Tar Heels, 97-80, according to Auburn Athletics. Next, the Tigers faced No. 2-seed Kentucky in the Elite Eight, winning, 77-71, in overtime.

Virginia is still known for what happened last year — being the first ever No. 1-seed to lose to a No. 16-seed in the first round of March Madness, according to the NCAA website.

Clearly, the Cavaliers came into March Madness this year looking for redemption, successfully clinching a third Final Four bid in program history after defeating No. 3-seed Purdue, 80-75, in overtime.

Taking Virginia’s defensive efficiency into consideration, along with its player seniority and experience in playoff basketball, I can’t help but think the Cavaliers will beat Auburn and earn a bid to their first National Championship in history.

The matchup between Virginia and Auburn is set to take place at 5:10 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Flipping to the other side of the bracket, Tech will face No. 2-seed Michigan State at 7:49 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for a national championship berth.

This is Tech’s first time in program history to earn a spot in the Final Four, according to Tech Athletics. It is also Tech head coach Chris Beard’s second straight year successfully leading his Red Raider squad to an Elite Eight appearance.

No. 3-seed Tech took down the No. 2-seed Michigan Wolverines in the Sweet 16, clinching a spot in the Elite Eight against No. 1-seed Gonzaga, according to Tech Athletics. Then, in a shocking display of a powerful offense versus a defensive-minded team, the underdog Red Raiders defeated the Bulldogs, 75-69.

No. 2-seed Michigan State put on an impressive performance in the Elite Eight, downing the best team in the nation, Duke. The matchup was a nail-biter, with the Spartans barely sliding away victorious, 68-67.

Duke losing early has everybody shook, mostly because it was expected the freshman trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish would lead the Blue Devils to a national championship title.

Tech and Michigan State are obviously two talented teams that deserve to be where they are, but I believe Tech is going to walk away with a victory.

If what I say is correct and it ends up being Tech and Virginia in the championship, it’s going to be an electrifying battle of the top-two defenses in the nation. Both the Red Raiders and the Cavaliers will be on the hunt for the first title in each of the programs’ histories.

If Tech’s starting foundation of guard’s Jarrett Culver, Davide Moretti, Matt Mooney, Norense Odiase and Tariq Owens all show up ready to play, the Red Raiders can claim their first National Championship.

It’ll end up coming down to defensive assignments, rim protection and, of course, being able to score the ball more than their opponent.

Like the late and legendary football head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said, “Defense wins championships.” It rings true to this day and is universal across nearly all sports. 

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