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East Region Preview
The first game has the LSU Tigers taking on the Michigan State Spartans. This will be a fun game to watch because of the contrasting styles. The Tigers have the kind of offense that gives the Spartans defense problems and Michigan State wants to ugly the game up, making it a street fight. The Tigers thrive in transition and in open space to move freely. Both teams feature brute force in the post with LSU’s Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams battling the Spartans’ Nick Ward and Kenny Goins.
Keys To The Game: Michigan State needs to focus on keeping LSU’s shot attempts down by controlling the boards, manipulating the pace to keep LSU out of transition and their ability to defend the perimeter. For LSU, they want a track meet to take advantage of their skilled players so they must take care of the ball to maximize every possession and must be patient guarding the Spartans methodical offense (no cheap fouls to bail them out).
Prediction: LSU’s talent overcome Michigan State’s coaching by Tom Izzo. They pull away late to win and live to play another game.
The second game brings two ACC foes together again showcasing the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Duke Blue Devils. The Hokies come into this contest not fearing the Blue Devils and very confident having already beaten them. Virginia Tech has a healthy Justin Robinson to lead them against Duke’s pressure. The Blue Devils want to create turnovers, get in transition and score easy baskets. Everything starts and end with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, they must play well for Duke to move on.
Keys To The Game: Hokies should keep this a half court game, control the defensive boards and force the Blue Devils to become a perimeter shooting team. For the Blue Devils, put the defensive pressure on ball handlers, get more than an average game out of Cam Reddish and dominate the boards.
Prediction: Duke capitalizes on Virginia Tech mistakes and makes enough plays to advance. Cam Reddish plays big and will be the difference on this night.
Midwest Region Preview
The first game features the Auburn Tigers and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Get your running shoes on, this will be an all out sprint. Both teams love to get out in transition but the means to an end differs.
The Tigers want to shoot threes in transition while the Tar Heels want to get to the rim. It’s bombs away for Auburn, who will hoist up 30 or more threes. They will press to turn you over and create chaos. North Carolina gets into their transition on misses (preferably) or makes, keeping defenses on their toes. They are just as devastating in the open court with lead guard Coby White at the helm.
Keys To The Game: Auburn has to spread the floor and make their threes, convert turnovers into points off the full court press and battle hard on the boards to keep the margin respectable. For North Carolina, they must make Auburn pay for pressing by scoring against it, capitalize on the Tigers going small by owning the boards and defending the three-point line (no open looks).
Prediction: North Carolina is more efficient offensively and control the boards to secure a victory and move on. The Tar Heels will get to the free throw line a bunch and cash in.
The second game has the Houston Cougars taking on the Kentucky Wildcats. The Cougars are here to get some respect as a national power. Houston brings a tough defense to the table. It’s about pride for this team and coach Kelvin Sampson has ressurected this program. The Cougars go as their backcourt goes, the trio of Galen Robinson Jr, Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr are as good as any.
Kentucky also brings some defense with them. If PJ Washington returns from injury, it will be a huge boost on both ends. If not, they will need to get a better offensive output from guards Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro. Rebounding will play a huge role in deciding the outcome.
Keys To The Game: Depending on how well Houston shoots from the floor overall, they must commit to rebounding (the guards can’t cheat and leak out) and play solid defense. For Kentucky, take advantage of their size to own the boards, shoot better from long range and attack the basket to create fouls (and get extra points from the free throw line).
Prediction: Kentucky wins the rebounding battle in a big way and shoot a mass of free throws to win a hard fought game. Herro and Johnson come up big as the Wildcats march on.