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Mythical March Madness: Michigan State beats Kentucky for national title in Star's simulation
Mythical March Madness

Mythical March Madness: Michigan State beats Kentucky for national title in Star's simulation

Michigan State guard Mateen Cleaves, left, presents guard Cassius Winston with a commemorative basketball after Winston broke Cleaves’ all-time Big Ten Conference and Michigan State records.

Editor’s note: With no March Madness this year, the Star is using WhatIfSports.com to simulate what may have happened if the hoops world hadn’t been shut down by the coronavirus.

Finally, we’ve reached the biggest stage in college basketball— the Final Four. The Elite Eight round produced some intriguing results as three of the four winners took down higher-seeded opponents.

Our (mythical) Final Four includes zero No. 1 seeds and one Pac-12 team — Oregon. Here’s how the games played out, and who won the national championship:

First semifinal

No. 2 Kentucky 70, No. 4 Maryland 67: The Wildcats’ EJ Montgomery received the transition pass from teammate Tyrese Maxey off a Maryland turnover and banked home a layup to put the Wildcats up 68-67 with 37 seconds left. The Terps’ Jalen Smith missed a driving floater on the next possession that sent the Wildcats to the national championship game.

The Wildcats trailed 64-56 with 3:10 to play but rattled off a 14-3 run to close the game. Maxey and Ashton Hagans led the comeback charge combining for eight points during the late-game run.

Maxey’s 16 points were tied for the team-high with Nick Richards, who also grabbed nine rebounds. Kentucky won despite only hitting 27 of 72 shots (37.5%) from the field, though its defense forced eight second-half turnovers.

Second semifinal

No. 3 Michigan State 78, No. 4 Oregon 71: Michigan State controlled the latter part of the second semifinal and staved off an Oregon comeback to clinch a spot in the national title game.

The Spartans led 51-39 midway through the second half when Oregon went on an offensive blitz, cutting the lead to 53-50 on an Anthony Mathis 3-pointer.

That was the closest the Ducks got. Michigan State hit back-to-back 3-pointers and rebuilt its lead to double digits. Cassius Winston’s two free throws made it 67-56 with 3:26 left.

Winston, the engine of the MSU offense throughout our simulation, scored just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting — though seven of the 10 came in the final 20 minutes of play. The Ducks were ready to play in the early stages of play, taking hold of a 24-20 lead before the Spartans went ahead 38-31 at the break.

Oregon’s Payton Pritchard delivered another memorable performance, scoring 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting, but he converted only 2 of 8 from beyond the 3-point arc. Oregon’s offense also slowed in the second half: The Ducks made just 10 of 31 field goals in the second half compared to Michigan State’s 16 of 33.

National championship

No. 3 Michigan State 72, No. 3 Kentucky 63: Green and white confetti fell all over the Interwebs — hey, this is a simulation — after the Spartans dispatched the Wildcats in the national title game for coach Tom Izzo’s second national title.

Forward Xavier Tillman scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the title game, earning Most Outstanding Player honors. Kentucky held a 39-33 lead going into halftime but MSU charged back to go up 44-43 early in the second half.

The Spartans went up by double digits with four minutes. Kentucky went 2 of 8 from the field and 2 of 4 from the free-throw line to close the game, allowing Michigan State to pull away.

Winston scored 15 points and had four assists, including two 3-pointers in the second half, and the Spartans hit over 40% from the field. Maxey finished his season with 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

And with that, the Star hands the simulated trophy to the Spartans. While this exercise can’t replace the real NCAA Tournament, it at least gives a glimpse into what the madness might have looked like.

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