It’s been a wild ride, but somehow, some way, we are down to an elite eight. Exactly zero percent of brackets had all eight right, which speaks volumes to the craziness that this tournament has given us. Whether they’ve been a giant killer or a team hot at the right time, each of these eight teams have earned the right to battle for a spot in the Final Four. Without further ado, I preview the four games everyone will be watching this weekend.
Loyola Chicago vs Kansas State
Both teams have faced similar roads to the elite eight, but the way in which they’re winning is entirely different. Loyola-Chicago, led by Sister Jean, has shocked the nation by beating three very good offensive teams in a row with their grinding, taxing style of defense. Coupled with their rebounding prowess, and their ability to limit second chance points, you have a team that will keep it close no matter the competition. With a knack for late game magic and a passion for sharing the ball, the Ramblers present a unique offensive challenge, too. However, Kansas State has gotten here because of sheer defensive effort and will, holding their three NCAA opponents to under 60 points, including holding the team that blasted Virginia to 29 percent shooting. This will be a defensive slugfest, with limited turnovers. On paper these teams look very evenly matched, but with the way Loyola-Chicago performs in crunch time and the whole nation outside of Kansas on their side, I see the Ramblers nudging past the Wildcats in the final minute.
Score Prediction: Loyola-Chicago 56, Kansas State 54
Michigan vs Florida State
Michigan is one of the hottest teams in the country, winners of twelve straight, while Florida State’s confidence is at an all-time high, having knocked off Xavier and Gonzaga in back to back games. Like the Loyola-K State game, expect this one to be a defensive dogfight. Florida State strangles you using their length and athleticism, forcing turnovers and disrupting tempo. Michigan is also aggressive in their defensive approach, but are more capable of forcing bad shots and are an excellent defensive rebounding team. Both teams also use an offense-by-committee style, with multiple scorers being able to hit double digit points. However, in a game where both defenses are going to playing at a high level, the team who can hit the most shots will win. Not too many teams can win a shooting contest with Michigan. That coupled with their coaching advantage propels the Wolverines to a win.
Score Prediction: Michigan 70, Florida State 65
Texas Tech vs Villanova
We all know Texas Tech’s defense is legit, in fact, they’re the best defensive team left in the tournament. Villanova is just coming off a game where for thirty minutes they really struggled handling West Virginia’s pressing defense. This seems to favor Texas Tech, but let’s not forget how big a win the West Virginia game was. In fact, Villanova’s victory over the Mountaineers was an even bigger plus if you consider it was basically a warm-up game for the type of in your face, brass knuckles defense the Red Raiders play. The Wildcats looked in trouble when they fell behind by six with about ten minutes to go against the Mountaineers. They were tired and not shooting the ball very well. Then Jalen Brunson flipped the switch and the game got out of hand fast, and Villanova showed why they’re a common pick to win it all again. I think Texas Tech will give ‘Nova similar fits, but this offense is just way too good, and way too diverse to stop. This is a team who’s scored 75 points or more in ten of their last eleven games. Keenan Evans will do his best Superman impression, but in the end, Villanova will do what they always do: rain down three’s like a boss.
Score Prediction: Villanova 73, Texas Tech 66
Kansas vs Duke
In an incredibly chaotic tournament, the Midwest Regional Final is giving us what we all expected: a Kansas-Duke blue blood battle royale. While most teams are here because of their stifling defense, these two teams are looking to put up ninety every game. If you like great offense and playmakers, this is the game for you. Grayson Allen vs Devontae Graham. Marvin Bagley vs Udoka Azubuike. Gary Trent JR vs Malik Newman. I’m salivating just thinking about it. Because of the offensive firepower, this game will likely come down to who plays the better defense, and Duke has been terrific since switching to a zone in mid February. Unfortunately for them, though, that plays right into the Jayhawks hands. Kansas loves to shoot three’s, mainly because they’re so good at it, so Duke’s defense will have to stretch to cover the perimeter. If Kansas starts catching fire, they could pull the upset. However, Duke should do enough to limit second chances, and I don’t think Kansas has any answer for the combination of Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter JR, especially on the glass. Duke wins this one.
Score Prediction: Duke 86, Kansas 81