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We are down to 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament. Some big names schools have been sent packing early (North Carolina Tar Heels, Arizona Wildcats and Virginia Cavaliers to name a few) by some party crashers like Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, Nevada Wolf Pack and Syracuse Orange. This is what makes March Madness. The chaos continues!
(5) West Virginia Mountaineers vs (1) Villanova Wildcats
This is a battle of contrasting styles. West Virginia has looked great the first two games against Murray State and Marshall. They overwhelmed both opponents with their press. Villanova is a team that likes to play with controlled pace but will run when they have the opportunity. Pressing them is a gamble but the Mountaineers aren’t changing who they are at this point.
West Virginia plays a chaotic defense aimed at creating turnovers and tiring out teams while they gang rebound as well. It’s hard to prepare against the press because they rotate ten players, the pressure never stops. They are led by indispensable guard Jevon Carter, a one man pressure cooker. Big man Sagaba Konate is a post presence and rim protector. Add that with the other options in Ersa Ahmad, Daxter Miles Jr, Teddy Allen and James Bolden. You know what’s coming but can you survive it?
Villanova has looked every bit a #1 seed with two excellent performances. They are very good defensively and efficient offensively. Having guard Phil Booth back makes them even deeper. They are led by Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges but the wealth is spread out between Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Pachall and Omari Spellman. The Wildcats can slow drip a team into submission which makes them hard to beat.
Deciding Factor: Either West Virginia’s press will be effective and they win or Villanova will handle the pressure and win going away.
Who Advances: Villanova
(3) Texas Tech Red Raiders vs (2) Purdue Boilermakers
Texas Tech comes into this contest battle tested. They play solid defense but the offense is hit or miss at times, yet they stay in attack mode. Purdue plays an ugly style but it works for them because substance and details matter. They care about getting loose balls, boxing out and setting quality screens.
Texas Tech wants to get into their opponent and be physical. They play one big with four guards. Keenan Evans is the leader nd as he goes, so does the Red Raiders. Zhaire Smith, Zach Smith and Jarrett Culver must have a positive impact for them to win. For a small team, they rebound well. They must keep Purdue off the offensive glass.
Purdue wants to play a methodical game, not necessarily slow. Not having center Isaac Hass could be costly because Texas Tech has no answer for him. Vincent Edwards and Carson Edwards are their most talented and best scorers and Dakota Mathias is the glue and leader. Freshman center Matt Haarms has been pressed into service with Haas out and he has to be productive.
Deciding Factor: Whichever team imposed their will on the other will win.
Who Advances: Texas Tech
(11) Syracuse Orange vs (2) Duke Blue Devils
The good news for Syracuse is they know conference foe Duke, the bad news is they lost to them easily. Syracuse is flying high, crashing the “Big Dance” in a major way. Duke comes into this contest very confident after two blowout victories. They’ve made it look easy but shouldn’t take Syracuse lightly. This is a great coaching matchup between Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
Syracuse’s zone has been suffocating, holding each tournament opponent under 40% field goal shooting. They must find and identify the shooters and put a body on Duke’s bigs. Duke is too good offensively to have mental lapses. Their size and length must be felt by the Blue Devils. As usual, the offense is Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Bridgett. Big man Paschal Chukwu must protect the basket and stay out of foul trouble. If they slow the pace to limit Duke’s possessions, they put themselves in a good position. Taking care of the ball will be key and rebounding out of the zone will be absolutely paramount for any chance of a victory.
Duke looks to continue their dominating play. Center Wendal Carter Jr has been battling foot problems and it’s slowing his production. Marvin Bagley III has been sensational, who will be a focus of the Orange for sure. The guard trio of Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr and Trevon Duval has been good, especially from three point range. Ice cold shooting and foul trouble are the only things that could derail the Blue Devils.
Deciding Factor: It’s all about Syracuse’s zone, either it will be effective or it won’t.
Who Advances: Duke
(5) Clemson Tigers vs (1) Kansas Jayhawks
Clemson comes into the game sky high after dismantling Auburn, nobody saw that coming. They are out to prove they belong and want some attention. Kansas just keeps winning, whether by double digits or a barn burner. This is a Clemson team that can score, which is different from past good Tiger teams. You know Kansas prefers a wide open, up and down game.
Clemson has been so good offensively, hitting over 50% of their shots. Their defense hasn’t been too bad either. The guards have led the way with Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Gabe DeVoe. The x-factor is 6’9” Elijah Thomas, he’s athletic and adds an inside out component to the offense.
Kansas comes into this game very confident after a thrilling win over Seton Hall. Having a healthy Udoka Azubuike will be key for any deep run they make. They get quality play from their guards Devonte Graham, Lagerald Vick, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman. As long as they stay out of foul trouble, they can get it done. They must stay away from those patches of bad play.
Deciding Factor: Can Clemson continue their hot shooting, keep the rebounding close and minimize careless turnovers?
Who Advances: Kansas