Elite Eight Preview and Predictions
The 2016 Elite Eight is upon us. Kansas, Villanova, Oregon, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia and Syracuse have survived three grueling rounds of elimination to get to this point. Only four teams can move on. Which ones will it be?
Saturday, March 26
1 Oregon (31-6) vs. 2 Oklahoma (28-7)
If you expected Oregon to make it to the Elite Eight, props to you! Only 3% of the brackets in ESPN’s Bracket Challenge had the Ducks winning a championship, and it may not be far from happening.
Oregon is coming off of a dominating 82-68 performance against the Duke Blue Devils. The Ducks are led by sophomore forward Dillon Brooks. Brooks is averaging 17 points and 5.6 rebounds and is sneakily among the top 5 players left in the tournament. That’s not all, though. Oregon has four players who have been consistently putting up double-figures all year-long including Elgin Cook, who had 16 points and 9 rebounds in Oregon’s showdown with Duke. The Ducks out-rebounded the Blue Devils 42-32 and held Duke to just 31% from three-point land.
The Sooners, on the other hand, are coming off of a commanding 77-63 victory over Texas A&M. Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield had his hands full against the Aggies, who played a match-up zone to ensure Hield didn’t get many opportunities. He still managed 17 points and 10 rebounds, his only double-double of the season. The Sooners were forced to prove that they can beat you with more than just one player, and that’s exactly what they did. Junior guard Jordan Woodard led Oklahoma with 22 points and five Sooner players saw double-figures Thursday night.
So how do these two teams match up against each other? Having the same exact play style might be the only way to explain it. Throughout the tournament, Oregon and Oklahoma have both shot 49% from the field and average a little over 80 points per game. Saturday night’s game will be won by the team with the most experience down the stretch. Given this will be the 104th consecutive game where Oklahoma’s “fab four” (Buddy Hield, Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler) have started together, I have to give the advantage to the Sooners.
Prediction: Boomer Sooner!, Oklahoma slips past the Ducks in a high scoring affair.
1 Kansas (33-4) vs. 2 Villanova (32-5)
The next heavyweight battle of the Elite Eight features the number one overall seed and what might be the best Villanova team Jay Wright has ever coached. The Jayhawks and the Wildcats are playing their best basketball right now and will go into Saturday night’s showdown feeling very confident about their chances of advancing to the Final Four.
Kansas is coming off yet another controlling Sweet Sixteen victory against Maryland, 79-63, and enters the Elite Eight on a 17-game winning streak. Senior forward Perry Ellis absolutely dominated the Terrapins with 27 points and 5 rebounds and was practically unstoppable in the second half. Focusing on Ellis tends to be the route that most opponents choose to take, but the Jayhawks bring many weapons to the table. As a team, Kansas is hitting 42.2% from three-point range and holding opposing teams to a lot less than that. Just ask Maryland. The Terrapins were only able to connect on 5 of their 25 three-point attempts. Junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. follows closely behind teammate Perry Ellis with 13.7 points per game and hits 40.4% of his three-point shots.
Villanova’s 92-69 win over the Miami Hurricanes in the Sweet Sixteen was arguably the best overall performance of the tournament so far. Even though the Wildcats allowed Miami to shoot 53% from the field, they still managed to pull away and win by 23. Villanova junior forward Kris Jenkins went 5 for 6 from three-point range and is averaging 17.8 points per game since the beginning of post-season play. The Wildcats are averaging 88.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament with their closest margin of victory being a 19-point win over Iowa in the Round of 32.
The match-up between Kansas and Villanova could easily end up being the best game of college basketball we see all year. Both teams are on fire and don’t look to cool off anytime soon. Barring any early runs by the Jayhawks or the Wildcats, I think this one will be a nail-biter until the end. If Coach Jay Wright and the Wildcats are going to win an NCAA Championship, this would be the year. Unfortunately Nova ended up with the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks on their half of the bracket, a tough obstacle to overcome.
Prediction: Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk. KANSAS advances (in OT maybe?).
Sunday, March 27
1 Virginia (29-7) vs. 10 Syracuse (22-13)
Sunday’s match-ups consist of nothing but the ACC. Virginia will face Syracuse for the second time this season. The last time these two squared off, the Cavaliers squandered a 73-65 victory over the Orange. Syracuse was within one possession of tying the ball game during the last-minute, but could never seem to piece together the upset. Fifth-year senior guard Malcolm Brogdon scored 12 of his 21 points in the last six minutes of the game to secure the win for Virginia. Syracuse is the last remaining bracket-buster of mine, and if they haven’t shattered enough brackets already, now could be the time.
The Cavaliers are coming off of an 84-71 win over Iowa State in which they never trailed. Senior forward Anthony Gill finished with a season-high 23 points and 8 rebounds while teammate Mike Tobey added 18 points and 7 rebounds off the bench. One of the biggest eye-catching stats that Virginia has to offer is that they haven’t allowed a team more than 75 points all season long. The Cavaliers take the saying “defense wins championships” very seriously and have found much of their success through the ability to keep opponents off of the scoreboard.
Syracuse, however, has been almost just as successful on the defensive side of the ball. During the regular season, the Orange held its opponents to just 65.7 points per game. Teams have found ways to score more than 65 against Syracuse, but one of those ways is most certainly not from behind the three-point line. In 2016, Syracuse held its opponents to just 28.9% three-point shooting during ACC play and knocked off ACC foes Duke and Notre Dame.
Could a 10-seed actually make the Final Four in 2016? It’s not impossible. The Orange have proven time and time again this year that their 13 losses are not a true testimony to who they are. That being the case, fans should expect a game similar to the first meeting between the two teams. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has been in many tight games before, and if the Orange can hang around long enough, I’m willing to give them a chance. If you want to see a lot of offense, make sure to catch Saturday’s games instead of this one.
Prediction: UPSET ALERT!! Jim Boeheim and Syracuse use experience to defeat Virginia down the stretch.
1 North Carolina (31-6) vs. 6 Notre Dame (24-11)
The last (but not least by any means) Elite Eight game will put the Tar Heels against the luck of the Irish for the third time this season. The first two meetings between these teams weren’t even close to being similar. Notre Dame took the first game 80-76 back in early February. The Fighting Irish trailed by 15 late in the first half, but managed to storm back in the second. Junior guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore forward Bonzie Colson led Notre Dame with 19 points a piece. The outcome of the second match-up was massively in favor of North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated the Fighting Irish 78-47 using 24 consecutive points that Notre Dame did not have any type of answer to. Senior guard Marcus Paige led North Carolina with 16 points, 7 assists, and most importantly, 0 turnovers.
North Carolina toppled 5th-seeded Indiana 101-86 in the Sweet Sixteen. Marcus Paige led the Tar Heels with 21 points, followed by senior forward Brice Johnson, who added 20 points and 10 rebounds in the dominant win. Paige gave the Tar Heels’ defensive intensity a lot of credit for Friday night’s win and said that it will be a vital part of their chance at a National Championship.
Notre Dame used more of its luck to survive another close call, this time against the Wisconsin Badgers, 61-56. The Fighting Irish’s biggest win of the tournament came against Michigan in the first round when they won by seven. Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, and V.J. Beachem have been a huge part of Notre Dame’s successful run to the Elite Eight. They are averaging a combined 41 points and 18 rebounds per game and become even more intimidating if you continue to break down the stats. Auguste is in top contention with Kansas senior Perry Ellis for the best big man left in the tournament. His ability to control the paint and grab important rebounds in the closing minutes has paved a rough, yet successful path for the Fighting Irish.
Wouldn’t it be crazy if Notre Dame upset North Carolina? A possible 6/10 seed Final Four match-up could take place. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, I think the luck of the Irish has just about run out. Their inability to keep games close with North Carolina wasn’t an issue the first time around, but this is a different Tar Heels squad than it was then. They proved that with their 78-47 demolition of Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament, and they should be able to prove it again on Sunday.
Prediction: North Carolina wins in convincing fashion.
Now you’re all set for the 2016 Elite Eight! Enjoy the madness.