NCAA TOURNAMENT: ELITE 8 SATURDAY PREVIEW
There were some Sweet 16 upsets that no one saw coming (Marquette) and some that people did see coming (Michigan), but now that we are in the final eight, upsets aren’t as big of a deal. Sure, Wichita State is the new outcast, but they have taken a legitimate route to get here and deserve to be here. While upsets is what everyone likes to see, let’s just hope for some good basketball.
MARQUETTE (3) vs. SYRACUSE (4)
Both teams are coming off really good games which is nice to see instead of a team backing into the Elite Eight. They actually already faced off this year in Milwaukee where Marquette came away as victors, 74-71. While that matchup holds some semblance, it’s going to be hard to compare the two. Davante Gardner wreaked havoc in that game with 26 points and eight rebounds while Vander Blue was just another player on the court only getting 23 minutes of action. Gardner will still be an important piece in this game, but Blue will likely be a larger factor considering he just put in a 40-minute performance against Miami.
The unfortunate thing for Syracuse is that their zone won’t exactly surprise Marquette as they’ve already played this year, so that may be a downfall for them. However, the Orange are playing the best they’ve played all year so it will definitely be a little different.
The Golden Eagles attacked the zone by driving to the hoop in that previous win which will likely be their go-to move again, something Indiana had trouble with. Marquette attempted 28 more free throws than Syracuse in that February game.
Gardner and Chris Otule should be in for another big game as their strength and size will once again be a problem for the skinnier, while more athletic bigs of Syracuse. Marquette hit their shots from outside against the Hurricanes which is something they will need to do again. We know what Blue can do, but will Jamil Wilson and Trent Lockett step up to the plate once more?
If the Orange can force turnovers like they did against Indiana, it’s going to be trouble for Marquette. Transition is where guys like Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche thrive. If those two are hitting their shots again (especially Carter-Williams from three-point land), it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to beat them. C.J. Fair led the Cuse in scoring in the last game between these two teams and could easily once again. His ability to shoot outside gives trouble to the big men of Marquette as they like to stay in the paint.
Difference Maker: Michael Carter-Williams for the Orange. When MCW is hitting his shot, he’s close to unstoppable. He can take anyone off the trouble and can usually find the open man if given any trouble in the lane.
Prediction: Syracuse wins 67-62. Syracuse is usually a pretty good revenge team as seen in their Georgetown rematch earlier this season which gives them the extra boost.
[caption id="attachment_41002" align="alignright" width="504" caption="<em><strong>Can Aaron Craft lead Ohio State to another Final Four? </strong>Photo Credit: Johnathan Daniel, Getty Images</em>"][/caption]
WICHITA STATE (9) vs. OHIO STATE (2)
Can the Shockers provide one more shocking? Considering the way Ohio State has closed games out lately, it shouldn’t be surprising for anyone. Sure, the Buckeyes beat Iowa State and Arizona, but that was after letting each team back in the game late and then hitting a game-winning three-pointer. We’ve already seen with Wichita State that they can catch fire and hit multiple shots from deep.
The matchup to watch is going to be Malcolm Armstead vs. Aaron Craft. A lot of the numbers don’t point to Craft doing all that well defensively in the last two games, but he sets so many things up with his on-the-ball pressure. Armstead has been the main driving force for the Shockers, whether he’s going full force to the hoop or pulling up for a trey. This will be, by far, his toughest task of the tournament. If Craft can confuse him and get to his head, Wichita State’s chances take a real hit.
Of course with Ohio State, you also have to look out for Deshaun Thomas. He will likely get matchups with Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early. Hall provides more strength, while Early provides more athleticism. Since you can’t fully stop Thomas, the main job those two will have is making shots difficult and not fouling him, if at all possible. On the offensive end, Hall won’t have the same advantage as last game, but he should still be able to cause problems. Early is the player that needs to get going because he can score on the best of them.
While Wichita State has been playing great defense lately, Ohio State is going to be a tough task especially with how well their role players have been. Outside of Thomas and Craft, players like LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson have stepped up big in the tournament. Of course, they also have Lenzelle Smith Jr. who you can’t leave open behind the arc. This is going to be a physical, and sometimes ugly battle.
Difference Maker: Malcolm Armstead for the Shockers. We already know what Craft is going to do, but can Armstead one-up him? If Armstead turns the ball over and can’t set up shots, this offense could be in trouble.
Prediction: Ohio State wins 63-60. The Buckeyes are playing too good right now.
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