MSU'S TILLMAN, KU'S AZUBUIKE BOTH IN DOUBT AS FINAL FOUR TEAMS HEAD TO ATLANTA
HighEliteMajor last edited by HighEliteMajor
Atlanta - The Final Four participants will arrive in Atlanta on Wednesday. Michigan St. and Dayton are set to arrive tomorrow afternoon while Kansas and Villanova will arrive later in the evening. The #4 Spartans will take on the #1 Dayton Flyers (5:12 Saturday/CBS) in the first game in Atlanta, followed by the #1 Kansas/#2 Dayton tilt at 7:48 pm.
Two big injuries, though, are gathering much of the news. KU’s Udoka Azubuike is “very doubtful”, according to head coach Bill Self, for Saturday’s game against Michigan St. Self said Azubuike’s wrist is still “stiff and painful.” For his part, Azubuike thinks he can play. “I will find a way”, the Kansas senior said Tuesday in Lawrence. Azubuike did not practice Tuesday. Sophomore center David McCormack has filled in admirably, leading Kansas to its Elite Eight win against Kentucky on Sunday. Self said McCormack will start again Saturday vs. Villanova.
In Lansing, Michigan, the big news is forward Xavier Tillman’s right ankle. The 6’8" junior came down awkwardly midway through the second half in the Spartans overtime victory over San Diego State. Tillman came back and played two minutes in overtime but left prior to the game’s conclusion. MSU head coach Tom Izzo said that Tillman was on crutches as a precaution. “It’s not broken and there is no structural damage. We’ll see (if he can play). He rolled it pretty good,” Izzo said.
Villanova and Dayton will arrive in good health. The Flyers’ point guard, junior Jalen Crutcher, made headlines Monday guaranteeing a victory of Michigan St and perhaps a national championship. “We’re the best team in the country. I’m telling you that right now,” Crutcher said Monday, “We’ll be playing for the trophy next Monday, guaranteed, and there’s no way we’ll be denied.”
The Final Four has three coaching titans and one newcomer. Villanova is led by head coach Jay Wright, who directed his program to two national titles (2016 and 2018). Tom Izzo has a national title at Michigan St (2000). The same with Bill Self at Kansas (2008). Izzo and Self have been dogged by alleged tournament underachievement from fan bases each hungry for another another national title. For Izzo, that title seems ancient history. “We want it bad,” said Izzo, “We’ve been close, but haven’t finished the deal. We have to focus on Dayton and not worry about Monday night.”
Wright, for his part, was as at ease as one might suspect for a man with two recent rings gracing is fingers. “We’ve reached this point playing our game and playing relaxed. There’s no pressure. It’s just basketball. That’s what I tell the guys,” said Wright.
Self was bit more to the point. “Win. As Magic (Johnson) used to say, it’s ‘winning time.’ You play the entire season for this moment, for this stage. I want our guys to soak it in. Feel the gravity of the moment.”
Dayton’s head coach Anthony Grant is making his first Final Four appearance as a head coach, but will fall back on his experience on the bench of the Florida Gators as an assistant in 2006 during that team’s national title run – a job that he parlayed into a head coaching job at VCU. “That taught me a lot,” Grant said of his stint as a Florida assistant under Billy Donavan. “I saw how Billy prepared the team, how he prepared the coaching staff. I know the formula. But then again, the other three guys here definitely know the formula. Lots of rings out there.”
Three players from each team will be made available to the media on Thursday, as will the head coaches. All teams will have workouts on Thursday and Friday, with the Thursday practices being open to the public.