What you need to know about the Elite 8!
The past two nights have given us all some great basketball. Some people’s brackets have been killed, others are still going strong. We’ve had nail biters (Syracuse and Wisconsin), upsets (Louisville and MSU), almost major upset (UNC and Ohio) and a few teams that did enough to safely advance (Florida and Kentucky). Many of the great coaches we have seen in recent years are all still alive (Calipari, Pitino, Boeheim, Williams, Donovan, Self), and chalk has prevailed, as the field is largely comprised of #1’s, #2’s and #3’s. The next two days will really be the make or break for most of our brackets, and since mine have basically been shattered already (thanks Marquette & Vanderbilt!) I will give my unbiased predictions for this weekend’s action and predict the Four teams that will end up partying in Bourbon Street next week!
East Region: #1 Syracuse vs. #2 Ohio State– This matchup could easily be the most fun to watch. We have Syracuse’s patented 3-2 defense vs. Ohio States great on the ball defense. Thus far in the tournament, the Syracuse length up front has done a great job of covering up for the loss of Fab Melo. However, they have yet to play against a player with the skill set of Jared Sullinger or the versatility of Deshaun Thomas. Sullinger is coming off a 23 point, 11 rebound game vs. Cincy and look for him to keep up his domination against the Syracuse bigs. Syracuse has a tremendous “run and gun” offense, as they get out of their 2-3 zone and score in bunches in transition. We saw how Waiters and Jardin were able to run just enough to escape the less athletic Wisconsin Badgers. However, Cuse has struggled in the half court at times this year. I think Ohio State will lock them down as both Craft and Buford play strong man to man D. The combination of the OSU big men and their defensive tenacity will be enough to get Ohio State to the Final Four. Winner: Ohio State Buckeyes
West Region: #4 Louisville vs. #7 Florida- The West Region matchup features the two lowest seeds still alive in the tournament, but also the two teams that advanced most convincingly in the Sweet 16, as Louisville jumped on top of Michigan State from the onset and Florida put a safe distance between themselves and Marquette and kept it there the entire game. This matchup also features two coaches who know each other well, as Billy Donovan got his career started as an assistant to Rick Pitino in Kentucky. The Gators have been one of the best offensive teams in the country this year, while Louisville has shown domination on the defensive end. Florida also has one of the top turnover rates, but Louisville’s constant pressure allows them to force TO’s as well as anyone in the country. Louisville doesn’t shoot great from behind the arc, but they shot a little better against Michigan State and I expect Chris Smith and Russ Smith will stay hot. The matchup between PG’s will be the most intriguing matchup on the board, as Florida’s Erving Walker and Louisville’s Peyton Siva are both NBA talents, and its likely the winner of this matchup will determine the team that punches their Final Four ticket. I like Siva and the Cardinals in this close matchup. Winner: Louisville Cardinals.
South Region: #1 Kentucky vs. #3 Baylor- This is a match-up of two of the most athletic teams in the college game. Baylor has Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy, two of the only players with the size and NBA talent to match-up with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. However, I don’t believe they have the talent to outplay Kentuck’s depth on both sides of the court. Analysts have referred to Davis’s shot blocking ability to be the best they have seen since Bill Russell. Davis, Kidd-Glchrist and Terrance Jones have all stepped up their defense and rebounding, and if you couple that with the fact that the Wildcats have 6 players averaging better than 9.5 points per game, it is looking like it will be a tall order for Baylor to overcome. Baylor allowed Xavier to come back from 18 points down and they barely held onto that game, and the fact that Calipari has his team peaking at the right time leads me to believe the Wildcats will take their act down to NOLA next weekend. Winner: Kentucky.
Midwest Region: #1 North Carolina vs. #2 Kansas- The last Elite 8 matchup pits Roy Williams’s new team against his former team, as two of the most storied college basketball programs in the modern era face off. With the game being played in St. Louis, it is expected that Kansas will have a home court advantage not often seen in such a big tournament game. Although the UNC Blue fans usually travel well, St. Louis is usually a city that supports the Big XII. As of now, it looks like Kendall Marshall will probably sit out, and we saw the difference he makes for the UNC team as they barely squeaked by Ohio in the last round. UNC won the rebounding matchup vs. Ohio by 30 boards, which usually indicates domination. However, the game was settled in overtime which indicated that UNC’s offense was not as potent as it has been in recent games. I’m expected Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey to make matters hard for UNC up front, and Tyshawn Taylor to fix his shooting woes. Kansas shot a woeful 1-16 from deep against NC State and Taylor was 0-6. However, he is a player who shot 42% from behind the arc in the regular season and I expect that he will be more of his real self against the Tarheels. We will have an athletic, fact paced, close game, but I think Marshall’s injury is the deciding factor and the Jayhawks keep dancing down to New Orleans. Winner: Kansas Jayhawks
We are looking at a weekend full of great hoops and although I think I have a good read on these games, who the hell really knows? That’s what makes March Madness as spectacular as it is! Enjoy the games and we’ll see you in the French Quarter!