Tuesday, April 23, 2024

NCAA Tournament Projection: Michigan State vs. Kansas title game

April 8, 2020
<p>Xavier Tillman (23) high fives Cassius Winston (5) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four game against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 6, 2019. The Spartans lost to the Red Raiders 61-51.  (Nic Antaya/The State News)</p>

Xavier Tillman (23) high fives Cassius Winston (5) during the second half of the NCAA Final Four game against Texas Tech at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 6, 2019. The Spartans lost to the Red Raiders 61-51. (Nic Antaya/The State News)

Photo by Nic Antaya | The State News

Yes, we don’t have March Madness, but because of great minds like Joe Lunardi at ESPN, we can have a glimpse at what the bracket might have looked like. In the State News latest series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament might have looked like, round by round, region by region. 

Here is our projection and our takes of the NCAA Championship game between Michigan State and Kansas:

Elijah McKown: In a season where there was no top dog in college basketball, Kansas was the closest thing to it. The two man game of Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson is just too much for Michigan State or any team in this tourney to handle. Kansas, go hang the banner.

Jayna Bardahl: This matchup would have been exciting to watch as the physicality both teams are known for gets put to the test. However, in the end, Michigan State's less-than-perfect season is ultimately going to make them tougher in this one and they'll edge out Kansas thanks to a second half run.

Brendan Gumbel: Both teams are feeling confident heading into this matchup and the game is definitely for the taking. Ultimately, Kansas will get it done, as they've been the more well-rounded and consistent team all year.

Sean Reider: The ultimate measure of any team is not in wins and losses but in the adversity it manages to overcome throughout the season. With legacies on the line, I don't think a single team in the nation battled like Michigan State did this year so I'm giving them the win in the last game of the season.

The game: It all comes down to this. The ball is tipped, and there is Cassius Winston and Devon Dotson for the highly anticipated guard matchup of the night. The two shooting stars have been running for their lives to get to the final, nobody has worked harder than them to get here, and it shows. All of this, for their one shining moment.

Despite the forty minutes of play to go, it feels short in comparison to the road it took to get them here. In the blink of an eye, the moment will be gone. For one team to rise victorious in this game, someone will have to reach deep inside to will their team to victory.

Kansas will take the tip and Azubuike will convert it to an easy jumper, putting up the first points of the game on the Jayhawks' side.

Winston will carry it back to offense for the Spartans and take on his usual persona as field general. Winston will try to find an open pass but will struggle against the fresh intensity of Kansas' defense. With the shot clock winding down, Winston will carry it up the lane himself, somehow finding his way through Jayhawk defenders to put down a layup.

The first half will remain back and forth between the two teams until MSU's freshman guard Rocket Watts sinks a three from the corner that kickstarts his rookie season championship run.

Spartan fans will ignite as Watts hustles back to defense and slaps the floor, feeling his rhythm beginning to snap into place. Watts will sink two straight three's and jumper to give MSU a 8-point lead, the biggest lead for either team all game.

The Spartans will keep the lead until Kansas holds them to a scoring drought during the last two minutes of the half. Azubuike will pick up the missing pieces on defense for the Jayhawks while sharp shooters like Dotson and Ochai Agbaji come alive on offense.

The Jayhawks will end the first half quieting the Spartans to just one basket in the final three minutes while propelling on a scoring run of their own. The Spartans will enter halftime trailing 37-32 and will need to dig themselves out of the hole early in the second if they want to stay in contention.


There's 20 minutes left in the college basketball season. Both teams can feel how close they are to achieving their ultimate goal. For the Jayhawks, the second half will be about playing conservatively and building on their five point lead. For the Spartans, it will be about overcoming adversity, something they've been doing all season.

MSU gets the ball to start the second half and doesn't waste any time. Winston works the ball around and ends up finding Watts, the x-factor in the first half, for an open three. With the deficit now cut to two, neither team would pull away for a good portion of the second half. Then, with just under one minute remaining, chaos ensues.

The Spartans hold a narrow 65-63 lead and the Jayhawks have the ball. Losing awareness of the shot clock, Dotson is forced to heave up a contested three. As the ball travels to the basket, time to seems to slow down. A lot is riding on this shot, it has the potential to completely swing the momentum of the game. After what feels like forever, the ball finally banks off the backboard, rolls around the rim and falls through the netting. Kansas now has a one point lead.

Xavier Tillman Sr. is fouled on the next Spartan possession and misses his two free throws, all but sealing the deal. Dotson is intentionally put on the line and hits both of his free throws, giving Kansas a 68-65 lead with 2.1 seconds to go. Izzo calls a timeout and draws up a play for a potential game-tying three. The ball is inbounded to Winston, who takes one dribble and throws up a prayer.

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No good. The roar of the Jayhawks fans in attendance overpowers the stunning silence of the Spartan fans. Kansas wins by three and is the 2020 national champion.

As the confetti falls and players celebrate, MSU coach Tom Izzo and Kansas coach Bill Self meet for a congratulatory handshake. It's apparent that Self is relieved, almost to the point of tears, to be bringing his second championship to the heartland. He celebrates heartily with his players, showcasing a joking attitude that had emerged steadily throughout the season.

Izzo walks his players off the court with their heads held high. For the second time in his career, he's one win short of the ultimate goal and yet, there's a feeling of accomplishment among the Spartans. It hurts now and will for some time but soon, this will be a day to look back on with great sentiment.

Lawrence, Kansas is the epitome of chaos after the game while East Lansing isn't exactly coping but across the nation, it's quiet. TVs flicker off faintly as people everywhere begrudgingly prepare themselves to relive the previous night's championship on the worst Tuesday of the year. Some even look ahead, thinking about not what could have been but what could be in 2021.

Winner or loser, the nation collectively comes to rest on one thought: until next year.


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