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Road To The Final Four: Elite Eight Preview

Matt Padavick |
March 30, 2013 | 12:03 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Jim Boeheim looks to make his fourth Final Four appearance as head coach of Syracuse. (MattBritt00/Creative Commons)
Jim Boeheim looks to make his fourth Final Four appearance as head coach of Syracuse. (MattBritt00/Creative Commons)

It's time for the Elite Eight. Coaches don't get judged on how many Elite Eights they make. They get judged by how many Final Fours they make. Every game this weekend comes with a trip to Atlanta, a berth in the Final Four, on the line. Who will take those spots?

Saturday, March 30

(3) Marquette vs. (4) Syracuse 

Washington D.C. (East Regional Final)

Big East rivals meet in the Elite Eight, marking the first time since 2009 that teams from the same conference will compete with a Final Four appearance on the line. Marquette beat the Orange back on Feb. 25, but if Syracuse can defend like it did against Indiana, it is going to be tough for any team in the nation to beat the Orange. They frustrated Indiana defensively for 40 minutes with their extended 2-3 zone that takes away just about everything from the opposing offense.

Marquette is led by Vander Blue but has numerous contributors offensively. Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner all scored in double-digits in the team's dominating performance against Miami in the Sweet 16. Trent Lockett and Junior Cadougan are two X-factors for the Golden Eagles. If they can get going, Marquette is a very difficult team to defend, even for the Orange who possess a stifling zone defense.

Syracuse gets most of its production from C.J. Fair, James Southerland, Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams. Each of these guys average over 12 points per game and make up 71 percent of Syracuse’s offensive production. The Orange need someone like Rakeem Christmas to step up and lessen the scoring pressure on these four.

Prediction: Too much zone and too much experience. Filled with upperclassmen who have been there before, ‘Cuse will shut down Marquette just like they did to top-seeded Indiana to grab another Final Four appearance for Jim Boeheim and the Orange.

(2) Ohio State vs. (9) Wichita State

Los Angeles, CA (West Regional Final)

Coming off two heroic late-game wins, the Buckeyes look to continue their 11-game win streak against the Shockers of Wichita State.  Don’t be fooled by the name though, Wichita State isn’t shocking anyone anymore. They have proven they can compete with the big boys in the NCAA, defeating Pittsburgh and No. 1 seed Gonzaga on their way to the Elite Eight.

It will be interesting to see if they can continue their physical play against a Buckeye team that prides itself on brute style of play. The key for the Shockers is to control the boards as they have been doing, with an average of 38.4 rebounds per game (27th in the nation). They play 11 guys and no player averages more than 28 minutes a game, which keeps their starters fresh and able to close out games.

The key for Ohio State is to grab the lead early and maintain it. The Buckeyes have narrowly escaped the past two rounds and they can’t keep expecting Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross to bail them out at the end of games. Sam Thompson and Amir Williams need to play big inside for OSU to have any chance of winning the game. Wichita big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall are extremely physical and will punish OSU’s big men if they don’t come ready to play.

Prediction: Wichita State pulls out a close one. The Shockers' physicality and exceptional point-guard play will get them to the Final Four for the second time in their history and first time since 1965. 

Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke will try to continue his dominance. (Robbie Small/Creative Commons)
Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke will try to continue his dominance. (Robbie Small/Creative Commons)

Sunday, March 31

(3) Florida vs. (4) Michigan

Arlington, TX (South Regional Final)

What a matchup. Trey Burke vs. Mike Rosario. Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Scottie Wilbekin. Mike McGary vs. Will Yeguete. There are exceptional matchups no matter how you look at this game.  

Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke sent the Wolverines to the Elite Eight with a 23-point performance in the last 25 minutes against Kansas, including a long, game-tying three-pointer near the end of regulation. Florida took care of Florida Gulf Coast handily to reach the Elite Eight with outstanding play from Mike Rosario.

My favorite matchup in this game is Burke vs. Rosario. Both guards are phenomenal shooters who can break down a defender and get into the paint. After a slow start against Kansas, Burke will look to get going early and often against Florida. The x-factor for Michigan is Tim Hardaway Jr. With only 10 points against the Jayhawks, I think he will find his stroke and have a big game against the Gators.

Florida is a big and physical team, which plays right into the hands of Mike McGary. McGary dominated Withey in the Sweet 16 with 25 points and 14 rebounds. It is going to be a dogfight with Yeguete and McGary battling down low.

Prediction: With momentum on their side and Trey Burke running the show, I can’t see the Wolverines losing this one. Michigan will celebrate a Final Four berth for the first time since the Fab Five resided in Ann Arbor. 

(1) Louisville vs. (2) Duke

Indianapolis, IN (Midwest Regional Final)

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino continued his dominance in the Regional Semifinals, improving to 11-0 in his career in Sweet 16 games. The only 1 vs. 2 contest in the Elite Eight features two complete teams with extraordinary players at every position. Duke defeated Louisville on Nov. 24 in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. There is (obviously) a lot more on the line in this game and Louisville has hit its stride at the right point in the season. The Cardinals have won their tournament games by an average of 21 points per game.  

Russ Smith has been huge in the tournament, setting a Louisville record for most points through three games in the NCAA Tournament. He is posting 27 points per game, which has been much-needed for the Cardinals due to Siva’s poor play. Siva is shooting just 33 percent from the field with an average of 6.5 points per game. The Big East champions need a big game from their point guard if they want to get into the Final Four.

If Seth Curry can continue his hot shooting, anything is possible for Duke. Curry scored 29 points against Michigan State, hitting six three-pointers. Ryan Kelly is the x-factor in the game. Since his return, he has not been the same player for the Blue Devils that he was earlier in the season, failing to record more than 9 points in a game thus far in the tournament. Mason Plumlee, another big factor in the game, is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds. Plumlee and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng both have similar styles of play and will be another key matchup to watch in this game filled with top-tier players.

Mike Krzyzewski can tie the legendary John Wooden for most Final Four appearances with a win against the Cardinals. He is currently tied with Dean Smith for second-most all-time with 11.

Prediction: Peyton Siva and Russ Smith will be too much for the Blue Devils and their fast-paced offense will outlast Duke. Louisville is on a mission this year and no one is getting in the Cardinals' way.

Reach Staff Writer Matt Padavick here, or follow him on Twitter.



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