The Final Four is set, and unlike last season, Kansas fans don’t have an obvious choice to put their fandom behind.
Maybe your bracket isn’t busted and you still have a shot at some cash or bragging rights, so you’re riding with the team that makes it happen for you. But if your bracket is seeing red, but you can’t quit the hoops, who do you adopt for a three-day span?
Do you take one of the great storyline teams in Texas Tech and Auburn (first Final Four) or Virginia (Final Four a year after making...the other kind of history) or do you ride with more storied program like Michigan State?
Here are all the factors Kansas fans should take into consideration when selecting a rooting interest in the Final Four, including a top choice and order of support.
This one depends on where you fall on the fandom philosophical belief of whether conference teams should root for one another in the tournament. Tech was responsible for ending the streak. So would it make you feel better if the team that ended the streak was just one of those rare non-Kansas Big 12 teams to have a special tournament run, or do you want it to suffer heartbreaking defeat?
You could argue the Final Four run has already proven Tech to be the rare Big 12 team to make noise in the tournament, and another win won’t necessarily change that or help Kansas fans feel any better about the streak. The ultimate deciding factor? Tech fans would be insufferable for at least the next 12 months if Tech won the title.
The last few years for Virginia have been Kansas-esque, or at least a light version. The Cavaliers have dominated the regular season ACC, came up short in the Elite 8 a few years ago, had people question if their really good, defensive-minded coach (though Bennett is even more so than Self) could really make it over the hump in the tournament, and now have broken through with a chance to win a title. Last year’s debacle aside, does that sound at all familiar? I’m not comparing Virginia to Kansas, and obviously the styles of play are different, but there are some similarities in how the past few years have played out.
Plus, is there a better redemption story in sports right now that being the first team to lose to a 16 seed, only to make the Final Four the next year with basically the same team? It makes for great TV.
There’s a similar philosophical conundrum here with Kansas fans. Would you rather the team that ended your season crash and burn (vengeance) or make a run, proving their worth and justifying a loss? Auburn has proven that this is no fluke. And good news for KU fans? Casual fans are much more likely to recall Auburn’s wins over UNC and Kentucky—and honestly the first-round scare to New Mexico State—before remembering what the Tigers did to the Jayhawks. Still, there’s no real reason for Jayhawk fans to jump on the Auburn bandwagon, but it’s probably more appealing than Tech (and a more fun style of play).
Kansas started the season with a mostly emphatic victory over the Spartans, back when Michigan State was considered the fourth of the Champions Classic field this year. Though it is a little painful to see how well MSU has adapted this season battling injuries like Kansas had. The Spartans are a step below blue-blood status, but still have a rich history and are by far the most accomplished program in the Final Four this season.
MSU isn’t quite to the rival status of a Kentucky, UNC, or Duke, and KU has gotten the better of the Spartans in the tournament, winning two of three games all-time. The only loss came in the 2009 Sweet 16, when Michigan State went on to play in the national title game. Considering who the Spartans are facing on Saturday, it’s not the worst choice.
The Verdict: Virginia
It’s an amazing story with a likable team (even if you don’t like the style of play). And if we’re being honest, Tony Bennett is probably on the shortlist of coaches qualified to replace Bill Self should he ever leave, especially if he can secure a title here. The only possible con? Virginia knocked off Kansas in the 1995 Sweet 16 (for those with long memories and grudges). But Kansas then beat the Cavaliers the very next season to get their revenge. Root for the story.
- Michigan State
- Texas Tech