NCAA TOURNAMENT: ELITE 8 SUNDAY PREVIEW
So, one upset per Elite 8, right? Wichita State grabbed the improbable, but well deserved win over Ohio State last night while Syracuse stunned another team with their zone defense. All teams shot under 38 percent in Saturday’s game which shows what kind of games they were. Sunday’s should be (hopefully) much different with some of the best and most dynamic teams going head-to-head.
MICHIGAN (4) vs. FLORIDA (3)
It took a while, but Florida is finally getting a true task. Michigan comes into this game riding a high note after their incredible win over Kansas in what was the best game of the Sweet 16. It provided late-game heroics by Trey Burke and the first overtime game in the NCAA Tournament since 2011. As for the Gators, they silently put a choke hold on Florida Gulf Coast en route to a 12-point win.
Florida presents the best team in the tournament according to the statistics with a Top 10 defense and offense. Michigan is a little top-heavy with a great offense, but a rather suspect defense. So far, their offense has won out.
This is not the same Wolverines squad that lost to Penn State a month ago. Once a team that lacked a consistent big man on both ends of the court, they have turned over a new leaf with Mitch McGary in the starting lineup. None more evident than the past two games when McGary totaled 46 points and 28 rebounds in 69 minutes of play. This is the same player that averaged 19 minutes, 7.3 points and 6.1 boards per game during the regular season. Talk about a difference maker. Jeff Withey had five blocks last game, but he couldn’t do enough to stop McGary on the boards. When you combine what McGary has been able to do with the rest of this roster, it’s pretty scary.
Trey Burke had the best shot of the tourney when he pulled up for a three that was deeper than NBA range to tie it with five seconds left against Kansas. He finished with 23 points after not scoring in the first half. Sure, they aren’t a deep squad, but they don’t have to be when all five of their starters are legitimate threats. Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas can all create shots for themselves as they all finished in double-digits against the Jayhawks. Kansas had the best defensive field percentage in the nation, but that didn’t matter to them. They will now face a task just as difficult in the Gators.
Florida not only has a well-rounded squad, but a deep one, as well. They have a roster that can defend all positions no matter who you are. Whereas Withey was a height problem for McGary, Patric Young is going to be a strength problem. Young may not get a ton of baskets, but he’s going to fight down low and make things as hard as possible for McGary. Off the bench, Will Yeguete can also provide some muscle.
The battle on the outside will be just as good as the one inside. Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin are just as big of playmakers as the Wolverines three guards. While none of those guys is quite the scorer Burke is, they can all play defense and can score the rock when needed. The interesting matchup will be between Erik Murphy and Robinson III. Murphy has the frame to post up Robinson, but also can hit from long range.
Difference Maker: Mitch McGary for the Wolverines. If he can keep his play at a high level against Patric Young, it’s going to help Michigan a lot on offense.
Prediction: Florida wins 70-67. I don’t want to go against Burke and Michigan two times in a row, but here it is. The Gators bring it on both ends of the court and will close out better than the Jayhawks.
[caption id="attachment_39796" align="alignright" width="560" caption="<em><strong>Does Trey Burke have any more late-game heroics left? </strong>Photo Credit: Joe Robbins, Getty Images</em>"][/caption]
DUKE (2) vs. LOUISVILLE (1)
The Midwest continues to live up to its title as the toughest region of the tournament. It was the only region that had its top three seeds make the Sweet 16 and is now the only one left with its top two seeds facing off. Basically, it’s the only region that everyone correctly picked in their bracket (straight chalk most of the way). Louisville continues its tear and comes into this game ranging as a three to four-point favorite. While Duke is a solid team, Louisville deserves to be the favorite, and not just because they are the No. 1 seed.
The Cardinals bring a complete team to the table and that shows in their 13-game winning streak dating back to early February. At the head of that is Russ Smith who has put together one of the best three-game stretches of any player in NCAA Tournament history. Whether he’s pulling up for a shot or driving to the hoop, he’s trouble for the opposition. In those three games he has 81 points, eight assists and 11 steals. He should be matched up with Seth Curry of Duke, but the coaches may decide not to have them guard each other. Curry hasn’t been a slouch either, going for 72 points in his three games. Most notably was his last performance against Michigan State when he went 6-for-7 from behind the arc. No matter who the Spartans had on him, he was popping out and hitting the jay or even working the defender a bit.
There are plenty more great matchups to watch in this game as well. The lengthy Gorgui Dieng will get to face off with Mason Plumlee. Keep in mind when these teams played back in November when Duke came away with a five-point win, Dieng did not play. Because of that and the fact that it was five months ago, means you can’t put too much thought into their previous matchup. Dieng will give Plumlee a lot more trouble than he had the first time around in the post. Plumlee has gotten into foul trouble the last couple games and will need to play smarter because he is a very important part to this offense.
At the other guard spot, Peyton Siva will take on Quinn Cook. Both players have the ability to shoot and score off the dribble, but neither has looked all that great in the tourney so far. Cook only played 21 minutes against Michigan State because he was so ineffective. The same can be said about Siva as he looked like a mess with four turnovers and three fouls in 19 minutes against Oregon. Siva gets the advantage due to his seniority, but not by much.
For the Blue Devils, Ryan Kelly is a definite matchup problem at the forward position, but it’s not his offense that has been his main suit lately. Kelly has not made a three-pointer in five straight games which seems to be getting to his head. However, his game has been better defensively, getting four blocks in their Sweet 16 game in 38 minutes of action. Chane Behanan will start off guarding Kelly, but there will be a lot of switching involved with him and Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Those two could also help against Plumlee.
At the last starting spot, Rasheed Sulaimon will go head-to-head with Wayne Blackshear. This is the least popular of all of the matchups in this game, but Sulaimon is a player that can get hot and has a better offensive game than Blackshear. You can go back and forth at all five starting positions for these teams, but the bench will be owned by Louisville. Kevin Ware matches up well with all of Duke’s guards and he can help out defensively while Harrell provides another big body for them and Luke Hancock is a sizeable shooter.
The coaching battle is also pretty even between Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski, but a stat that jumps out is that Coach K is 11-1 in the Elite 8. That’s a really, really good record.
Difference Maker: Peyton Siva for the Cardinals. With Curry and Smith cancelling each other out, it’s going to come down to how well the point guards play. Siva can either be really good, or really bad.
Prediction: Louisville wins wins 68-64. It’s hard to deny Coach K’s record in the Elite 8, but here comes loss No. 2.
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