The Sweet Sixteen was a pretty big let down to be honest, but the Elite Eight has some potential to make up for the lack of excitement provided on Thursday and Friday. Outside of #6 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wisconsin and #10 Syracuse vs. #11 Gonzaga, each game was less than enjoyable to watch. There were no upsets in the Sweet Sixteen and now, surprisingly, all four #1 seeds remain in the last eight teams alive for the first time since 2009.
The South Region Championship Game will be between #1 Kansas vs. #2 Villanova. Kansas is the best team in the country, and have looked the part this tournament, winning each game by double-digits, with their last win being the most impressive. Kansas beat down the Maryland Terrapins from start to finish, in a game expected by many, myself included, to be extremely close.
There’s been no stopping Perry Ellis in this tournament, as he’s gone for over 20 points in each of his three games this tournament, including 27 over Maryland and he’s in prime position to go off again against a Villanova team weak on the interior.
However, Villanova is breaking through in March in a big way. Over the last few seasons, the Wildcats have disappointed this time of year. But Nova, like Kansas, has won every game by double figures, including a stomping of #3 seed Miami two days ago. The play of senior Ryan Arcidiacono has been the main reason for Nova’s success. He’s bumped his scoring average from 12.3 in the regular season to 17 in the tournament.
Kansas is the deeper, better coached, and more talented roster, and they should continue their path to the Final Four against Villanova, but as we’ve grown accustomed to in March, anything can happen.
The West bracket will see a tandem of high powered offenses in #1 Oregon and #2 Oklahoma in a marquee matchup that some would have expected to see on the football field rather than the Elite Eight.
Oregon has now won 11 in a row after taking care of Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, with a little Dillon Brooks leading the way once again. Brooks has been the breakout star of the tournament to this point. Nobody really see’s Oregon’s games because their on late night out West, but Brooks was great in the regular season, and has shined on the national spotlight. He’s hit a few clutch shots against Duke and Saint Joseph’s, and is the main reason for the Ducks being in the Elite Eight.
But Oklahoma has a star in their own right, and his name is Buddy. Buddy Hield has continued to wow spectators in March will his play. Despite going for just 17 against Texas A&M in the Sweet Sixteen, he pulled in 10 rebounds, notching his first double-double of the year. Hield has been helped by seniors Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins, and the trio is looking to get to their only Final Four as a trio.
The first of two all ACC Elite Eight match ups pits #1 Virginia against #10 Syracuse. On paper, this game looks like a blowout. Virginia, even as a higher seed, has played the tougher schedule up to this point in the tournament. Syracuse has lucked out to this point, drawing Dayton, Mid Tennessee and Gonzaga, whom Syracuse came back on in the final minutes.
Virginia took the only game between the two earlier this year, winning by eight at home. Virgnia is known for its defense, which has been at full display this tournament, but it’s offense has really taken off, now averaging 80.7 points in three games. The biggest surprise has been Anthony Gill, who averaged just under 14 points in the regular season, but has bumped that up to 20.3, along with 7.7 rebounds a game.
Syracuse is lowest remaining seed in the tournament, but they’ll have their toughest task faced against them in the Virginia defense. Michael Gbinije has been stellar for Syracuse over the last two years, and he’s become the best player on this team. He does everything for Orange. The senior forward can shoot, drive, rebound and pass, as well as run the point from time to time in a pinch.
Tyler Roberson has exploded in this tournament, and he’s been a beat on the boards. He’s averaging 13 rebounds per game, with a staggering six per game on the offensive end. Against Gonzaga, he kept a multitude of plays alive for the Orange in their comeback effort.
This game could be a lot closer than people imagine. Syracuse’s defense is a tough code to crack, and both teams are very familiar with each other. Jim Boeheim has his troops firing on all cylinders and the confidence has to be sky high for his bunch.
The final matchup in the Elite Eight features another all ACC matchup against two high powered offenses. #1 North Carolina takes on #6 Notre Dame for a trip to the Final Four.
UNC is rolling after dismantling another high powered offense in Indiana. Winning each game by double digits, the Tarheels have been led by Brice Johnson, who is putting up 19.7 points per game and nine rebounds per game. He’s led the team all season long, but Marcus Paige set the tone last night against Indiana, hitting four threes early on. The two seniors have been disappointing in March and are finally in the Elite Eight with all eyes on them. UNC is a deep, big and veteran roster, three things that bode well for teams in March.
Notre Dame has a good offense to their credit, but they don’t have the same size or depth as UNC. The offense continues to get pulled by the starting five, especially Zach Auguste, Demetrious Jackson and VJ Beachem. Beachem has been lights out in three games, shooting 9/17 from deep, just over 50%. Auguste has continued to be a force on the roards and on the block, and his two man game with Demtrious Jackson has still been effective, as it has for the whole season. The staring five is going to have to be effective on both ends of the court and stay out of foul trouble if Notre Dame wants a shot at the Final Four.
The number one seeds have been great so far in March, dominating just about every game they have played in. But I think I speak for everyone when I say nobody wants to see an all number one seed Final Four, that would be too boring. Everyone loves upsets, and I hope we see at least one this round, unlike the Sweet Sixteen.
Cover photo via DailyPress