Previewing Saturday’s Elite Eight

Within the next two days, we will know the Final Four, which of course brings great excitement for everyone. The NCAA Tournament has been one heck of a ride, with upsets upon upsets, as well as plenty of other important storylines. This marks the first two teams that will clinch a spot in the Final Four, so let’s dive into the matchups. 

#5 Houston vs #2 Villanova 6:09 ET on TBS

The first game of the Elite Eight will see two rather familiar deep-run candidates as the tough, defensive-minded Houston Cougars will take on the experienced Villanova Wildcats for the South Regional title. 

Houston is not supposed to be here, having lost two of their Top-4 scorers early in the season, and winning no quadrant one games until March, many including myself had the Cougars exiting early, but Kelvin Sampson’s team has defied all the odds. This team is terrific defensively, continued to dominate the boards, and they have gotten really quality looks on most possessions, so while the talent isn’t great, the team basketball has been. The frontcourt of Fabian White and Josh Carlton has been terrific defending the rim and getting boards. Kyler Edwards, Taze Moore, and Jamal Shead have made big shots, defended tough, and helped win the Cougars games and the bench play has been solid. This team may not have a collection of signature wins, they may not have the talent you would expect to have for a Final Four team, but that doesn’t seem to matter at all. 

Their opponent Villanova has been to the Elite Eight just three times, including this year, the previous two ultimately led to the Wildcats winning it all in March. This team is culturally great, they don’t have NBA talent, but they do have a great team and that’s why they’re here. Collin Gillespie is the best leader in the sport, he’s not the most gifted player but he makes winning plays, knows the scouting reports, and delivers big shots every time Villanova needs it. They have a good secondary duo of scorers as well, Jermaine Samuels can defend 1-5, score from the perimeter, Justin Moore is a high-level scorer who can create a bucket. Add to that a group of good role players in Eric Dixon, Brandon Slater, and Caleb Daniels and this team has what it takes to win it all. 

If you are expecting an offensive showcase, you’re not looking in the right spot. Every possession will feel like a battle, both teams will face excellent defense and both will work offensively for 30 seconds to get a good look. The Cougars do have the edge when it comes to attacking the glass, they will gain extra possessions and use their overall length to force Villanova into a poor shooting night. Gillespie is capable of winning this game by himself, so don’t be surprised if Villanova wins, that said, I’m shockingly rolling with Houston to advance to the Final Four.

Pick: Houston 62 Villanova 56

#4 Arkansas vs #2 Duke 8:49 ET on TBS

The Coach K farewell Tour rolls on as Duke will hope to move onto the Final Four but to do so they will have to take on an Arkansas team fresh off knocking off the #1 overall seed, Gonzaga to get to this point. 

The Razorbacks got here by playing the perfect game against Gonzaga, they defended super tough, forced the Bulldogs shooters to make tough shots, and made late-game shots as well to win. The Razorbacks have a star in JD Notae, who while sometimes inefficient is a great creator, passer, and tough shot-maker, who has stared in this Tournament. Jaylin Williams is an elite defender and charge-taker, who plays his role. Add in good wing play from Trey Wade, Stanley Umude, and Au’Diese Toney and this team has a really good team construction for modern-day basketball. The talent is there but let’s say it like it is, no one is picking Arkansas to pull off this win. 

Instead, the world is picking Duke to win this game, which is likely for good reason, as they have the most talent remaining in this Tournament. Paolo Banchero is a superstar, he’s a great scorer, passer and creates so many quality looks for his team when he touches the ball. The Blue Devils have a great rim protector as well with Mark Williams, who also is a good low-post scorer, while Jeremy Roach has been the Blue Devils’ best guard, making big shot after big shot to get to this game. Add in good complementary pieces in Wendell Moore, Trevor Keels, and AJ Griffin who while all have been quiet in this Tournament, can wake up and drill shots to help lead the Blue Devils to a win. 

This game will be a really good matchup, all things considered, Eric Musselman is as good of a game planner as there is in the sport and he will likely have some sort of game plan that looks similar to the one they executed against Gonzaga. The question comes down to whether they can get similar levels of shot-missing from the Blue Devils as they did against Gonzaga. The problem is that Duke has a better star player and stars win in March, especially with the game on the line. I’m rolling with the Blue Devils to win another somewhat close one and go back to the Final Four. 

Pick: Duke 78 Arkansas 70

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