So we covered Round 1 and Round 2 to get to here, the opportunity to have all of your Elite 8 still alive come next weekend, and in turn, get every girl at the bars to swoon (ok, maybe not). With the games about to start, and me simultaneously about to fake a stomach ache at my day job, in a few short hours, we're going to have to navigate the whole path to crowning a champion.
Midwest Region - Indianapolis, IN
(1) Louisville OVER (4) Saint Louis
Goodness, I really want to pick the Billikens in this one. They are a great story and great team. Plus, their ability to defeat the Havoc press gives me great confidence for them against Louisville's defensive system. But Louisville is more talented across the board. Gorgui Deng will present huge matchup problems for Saint Louis. Perhaps Luke Hancock makes it rain as he has in so many big moments this year. Louisville prevails in an epic slugfest.
(2) Duke OVER (3) Michigan State
Michigan State provides the exact matchup problem for Duke I mentioned. With Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne hassling Miles Plumlee, expect him to plumble all over the court. Branden Dawson can give Seth Curry and difficult time. But Duke has the White Raven, Ryan Kelly. His serendipitous return inspired hope for the Blue Devils, as he can make it rain when all else seems to be lost. This team has shown a tendency to rise to the occasion this year, with impressive wins against top teams to start the year and against Miami and in Chapel Hill to conclude it. Duke rises above the matchup problems to play Louisville.
(1) Louisville OVER (2) Duke
This will undoubtedly be the game of the tournament. Both teams are fast pace and can score in bunches. Louisville’s advantage comes on the defensive side of the ball. Their full-court defense can hassle Duke enough where Seth Curry can’t get comfortable. The matchup of Gorgui Deng and Mason Plumlee is almost laughable. Duke has nobody that can slow down the lightning quick Russ Smith. Louisville keeps their streak going into the Final Four.
West Region - Los Angeles, CA
(4) Kansas State OVER (8) Pitt
This hurts as I’m a Pittsburgh homer and love this team with its 10-deep bench and coach who isn’t afraid of anything, not even burning cars, but Pitt has a tendency to flame out in this round once everybody buys into them. Kansas State is the more experienced team. Montavius Irving and Rodney McGruder will surely recall their upset loss to Butler in this round a short two years ago. Pittsburgh is a group of underclassmen who’s only real tournament experience came in the CBI. Kansas State moves on and breaks my heart.
(2) Ohio State OVER (3) New Mexico
Ohio State simply has more quality experience. They have survived the Big Ten grind and left the United Center with the trophy. New Mexico’s tough games came against the likes of Air Force and Colorado State. Ohio State shows the Lobos what the big leagues are like. They move on comfortably.
(2) Ohio State OVER (4) Kansas State
This region was served on a silver platter for Ohio State. With Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas leading the way, they outmatch any possible opponent in this bracket. Craft use his Captain Hook like paws to swipe away plenty of turnovers from McGruder, and Thad Matta will coach like a man who’s been there before. Ohio State advances to the Final Four.
East Region - Washington, D.C.
(4) Syracuse OVER (1) Indiana
Indiana seems like the team that should be able to thread Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. The shoot 41.1% on 3-pointers, they have Zeller who can grab boards down low and hit jumpers in the
soft spot of the middle. There’s a “but” coming... BUT, they can’t guard Syracuse on the other end. Christian Watford, the Hoosiers’ most athletic defender, is going to be forced out of his comfort zone against two extremely versatile forwards, C.J. Fair and James Southerland. Both can run, pass, and hit well over 40% from 3. And if James Southerland gets hot, as he did going 16-25 from 3-point range in three wins in the Garden, watch out. Indiana started with sky-high expectations, had a great season considering they won the Big 10, but they sprinkled in a few clunkers over the year that gives me doubt. The Hoosiers’ season ends here, and Tom Crean goes home to get noogies from the Harbaugh brothers.
(2) Miami OVER (6) Butler
When Miami last had to play a game at a snail’s pace, they struggled to pull one out 54-50
over Virginia. Butler is better than Virginia, Brad Stevens is a Jedi, but they just aren’t as
good as Miami. Shane Larkin, Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji present big matchup problems
for the Bulldogs. Butler will have to find the defensive magic that took them to two straight championship games, but it will be harder in the 2013 version of the team. Miami continues their impressive season, and keep trying to one-up Lebron.
(4) Syracuse OVER (2) Miami
Miami is physical, but you haven’t seen physical until you see the Big East. Brandon Triche can shut down Shane Larkin and Michael Carter-Williams will shoulder a big offensive load. Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita, Jeremi Grant will be able to physically overwhelm Miami’s Reggie Johnson down low. And I’ll sound like a broken record if I repeat just how good Southerland and Fair are at the forward position. Syracuse shows Miami the new world order of the future ACC and moves into the Final Four.
South Region - Arlington, TX
(4) Michigan OVER (1) Kansas
I don’t trust Kansas. Mclemore is great, Releford consistently shows up and Withey just freaks people out. There’s something missing, though, something that reared its ugly head in that embarrassing blowout to Baylor. Michigan has struggled of late, but has the superstar potential to look like the number 1 team from earlier in the year. Kansas has been relatively untested since the New Year. I see Michigan using the speed and outside play of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Nik Stauskas to outdo the young, inexperienced McLemore (I still say Kentucky’s freshmen success was a drop in the ocean of young teams fizzling out). Michigan pulls off the
upset to make their first Elite 8 since the Fab 5. (2) Georgetown OVER (3) Florida
This Florida team doesn’t trust itself. I’m now convinced Billy Donovan’s hands shake more than a crack addicts and the only reason Florida won two previous national championships was because of Joakhim Noah. They blew double digit leads in the past two Elite 8s against Butler and Louisville. This season, Florida is 26-1 in games decided by 10 points or more and 0-6 in games by less than 10. They can’t handle the pressure of close games. And there is no way they are blowing out Georgetown, the Big East champs. Not with Otto Porter, and Markel Starks and a great defense to supplement it all.
(2) Georgetown OVER (4) Michigan
This is as good a defense as VCU with better athletes. Michigan will be prone to turnovers in this one and Otto Porter will finally be credited for his defense as he shuts down one of Michigan’s talented guards. Georgetown is calm and experienced going against Michigan who can be absolutely frantic. The Hoyas move to the Final Four for a crescendo curtain call against their rival, Syracuse.
By now, I’ve discussed the remaining teams ad nauseam, so let’s move through these quickly.
(1) Louisville OVER (2) Ohio State
Let’s cut to the chase, Louisville presents a matchup problem for everybody. Aaron Craft is good, but doesn’t do as well against the fast paced guards, which Siva and Smith embody. Louisville moves to the championship.
(4) Syracuse OVER (2) Georgetown
Maybe I have a Big East bias? The fourth matchup between these two legendary rivals is only fitting with Syracuse’s money-grabbing departure to the Big East. When they hit on all cylinders, as they were in MSG, they are better and deeper than Georgetown. Syracuse ties the season series and advances to a rematch with Louisville.
(1) Louisville OVER (4) Syracuse
Louisville is the best team, plain and simple. They figured Syracuse out when they flipped a 16 point deficit into a 17 point win in the Big East Championship Game. The Cards are cutting down the nets.