Saturday's Elite 8 Previews


By Jim Hurley

Let’s zip right into our Jim Sez Game Previews for the NCAA Tournament Elite 8 games on this final Saturday in March:


SOUTH REGIONAL FINAL -- Fedex Forum; Memphis, TN

#11 DAYTON (26-10) vs. #1 FLORIDA (35-2) — 6:09 p.m. ET, CBS

Okay, so it may not exactly be the regional final y'all penciled in back at the start of this NCAA Tournament, but there’s little surprise that the red-hot Florida Gators will be part of the fun-and-games here:

In fact, Billy Donovan’s team — proud owners of an electric 29-game winning streak following Thursday’s 79-68 win/cover against 5-point underdog UCLA — had some good defense and some good fortune in that Sweet 16 tilt as the Bruins (to be truthful) missed a slew of in-close gimmes throughout the course of that game but when things got a little tight the Gators’ famed chomp-chomp defense did its thing while holding the Pac-12 guys to just 3-of-18 shooting from beyond the three-point arc.

Hey, it helped that veteran PG Scottie Wilbekin (13 points and 0 turnovers in 35 minutes against UCLA) came up with some dramatic shots/plays in the game’s final five minutes and he must secure the rock here against a Dayton team that loves the hectic/havoc style of play plus Florida G Michael Frazier (5-of-8 triples and 19 points on Thursday) must get his stroke in working order early, too.

If the Flyers are gonna steal this game — and note Archie Miller’s squad has been the point-grabbing side in each of its tourney wins against Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford — then that “trust” that Miller talked about following Thursday’s wire-to-wire 82-72 triumph against 3 ½-point fav Stanford must hold true … how about 19 assists on 28 made field goals in that Sweet 16 win for Dayton?

The guys in the red jerseys we’ll be paying special attention to here include Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert (18 points including four treys against the Cardinal) and C Matt Kavanaugh (10 points on 5-of-6 FG shooting against Stanford) as the former can’t be shy about winging it from deep on the fast break while the latter must show real in-the-paint toughness against the likes of C Patric Young and mates.

The Gators have lost their last three trips into the Elite 8 game in 2011, ’12 and ’13 … does that change here or will Dayton be the glass slipper side in North Texas next weekend?

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WEST REGIONAL FINAL — Honda Center; Anaheim, CA

#2 WISCONSIN (29-7) vs. #1 ARIZONA (33-4) — approximately 8:49 p.m. ET, CBS

Here’s the only Elite 8 game where form truly held — the #1 and #2 seeds not only are gonna stage a real tug-of-war game here but this one’s going to have a chess match feel to it:

The underdog Wisky Badgers — who just chewed up and spit out 4 ½-point dog Baylor 69-52 in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game — might well be coming off their best single game performance of the year and a share-the-ball mentality that featured a whopping 18 assists on 26 made FGs has Bo Ryan’s gang supremely confident even if it knows darn well it won’t be facing a soft zone defense here (how come it took Baylor boss Scott Drew forever to get out of the zone the other night?).

On the flip side, here’s an Arizona team that sported a general look of relief following its 70-64 non-cover victory against 7 ½-point pup San Diego State in Sweet 16 action.

No doubt the first-half shooting woes of G Nick Johnson (0-for-5 from the floor and scoreless in the game’s first 20 minutes) could have sabotaged this tourney run for Sean Miller’s squad, but Johnson made sure to drain all 10 of his second-half/late-game free throws plus point T.J. McConnell (11 points, 4 assists and only 2 turnovers in 35 action-packed minutes) was a major facilitator in that tilt and now he must force Wisky to speed up the tempo here … yes, we know Ryan’s gang plays at a much quicker speed than the glacially-paced Badgers of the mid-2000s but the fact of the matter is Arizona will welcome a faster tempo, more highlight-reel dunks off the break and your proverbial odd-man rushes than a Wisconsin crew that wants to chew 25 seconds or so off the play clock and then try to surgically beat you by moving the ball to the open shooter.

It says here that Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky (19 points on 8-of-11 FG makes against Baylor) must find some freedom for his 15-to-18-foot jumpers plus G Ben Brust (14 points and 6 rebounds versus Baylor) must energize the Badgers with his corner threes and some big steals/hustle plays too.

There’s more athletic talent on the Arizona side; there’s a better sense of offensive teamwork on the Wisconsin side.

The chess match in Orange County should be a blast — and don’t be shocked if poor free-throw shooting on either/both sides tells the tale here.



Here's what is on tap for Sunday's NCAA Tournament Elite 8 games:

EAST REGIONAL FINAL - Madison Square Garden; New York, NY
#7 CONNECTICUT (29-8) vs. #4 MICHIGAN STATE (29-8)
- 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS

Okay, so it hardly qualifies as a "news flash" that Michigan State's back in the Elite 8 for the eighth time in the Tom Izzo Era but the fact that the Spartans are "whole" after all those in-season injuries has made this Big 10 team every bit as tough as the experts (and President Obama) originally forecast back on Selection Sunday.

No doubt that one of the players who missed time this year (nine games, in fact) with a broken hand during this 2013-14 campaign wound up being the star-of-stars in the Sweet 16 win against Virginia:

Swingman Branden Dawson - who finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 0 turnovers in 34 minutes of action - at times overpowered the Cavs en route to this 61-59 non-cover win. Dawson and sidekick Adreian Payne sported a few monster dunks against the Wahoos and it was Payne (16 points and 6 boards) who hit the game's biggest shot with a tie-breaking triple with just 1:29 remaining in the contest.

Now, assuming both Dawson and Payne give Izzo their respective "A games" here, the $64,000 question is will frisky UConn be able to have the weaponry to steal this one (the early price tag has Michigan State favored by 5.5 points) as Virginia shot only 20-of-57 from the floor (35.1 percent) in that Sweet 16 loss-but-cover.

Kevin Ollie's club believes it has another scorer to help lessen the burden on senior G Shabazz Napier whose 19 points was nice in Friday's wire-to-wire 81-76 win against Iowa State in that pick 'em affair but it was unsung DeAndre Daniels who really gave the Huskies a jolt by scoring 19 of his team-best 27 points after intermission.

And don't sleep on UConn's free-throw shooting prowess as the American Athletic Conference club nailed 20-of-22 charity stripe tosses against the Cyclones and that's a heckuva lot better than many of these still-alive NCAA Tournament teams have shot during this "Big Dance".
One major key here:

Will the raucous Garden crowd be able to push the Huskies over the hump here - they were a major factor against an Iowa State side that definitely had some first-half stage fright on Friday night.

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7-3 Overall in the Sweet-16 Thursday & Friday!
  • Last year's Eliminator was easy as Syracuse (-4.5) crushed Marquette 55-39In 2011 we covered as Kentucky (-1) rolled over North Carolina 76-69In 2010 we just lost as Tennessee (-1.5) was tripped up by Michigan State 70-69In 2009 we pegged Villanova (+2) to take out Pittsburgh in a Big East Brawl,
    and the Wildcats won a wild one 78-76. In 2008 we got the cover with Davidson (+10) against Kansas in a 57-59 thriller!
    In 2007 North Carolina was eliminated by Georgetown (+3.5), in our Shocker of the Year, when the Hoyas surged to a late second half knockout blow to win 96-84! In '06 We took LSU (+3) to upset Texas to get to the Final Four, and they won 80-70.
  • In '05 we said Kentucky would be eliminated by Michigan State (-1) and the Spartans won 94-88

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MIDWEST REGIONAL FINAL - Lucas Oil Stadium; Indianapolis, IN
#8 KENTUCKY (27-10) vs. #2 MICHIGAN (28-8)
- approximately 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS

Let's remind one and all that the Kentucky Wildcats entered this year's NCAA Tournament a 40-to-1 shot to win it all (hey, note that Michigan was a 28-to-1 shot!) and all John Calipari's precocious kids have done is beat an undefeated Wichita State team in third-round action and then KO defending national champ Louisville what's the big deal about playing an Elite 8 game here against the other program that made it to the championship game a year ago?

Kentucky's "mojo" is rising - the good folks in Las Vegas immediately installed the Wildcats as a 2-point betting favorite over the second-seeded Wolverines here - as this SEC team trailed by double digits for much of the first half against the 'Ville and actually trailed by seven points with four-plus minutes left but the ability to draw key fouls on the Cardinals helped and so did some late-game heroics such as the corner triple by G Aaron Harrison and two big free throws by the ferocious Julius Randle (15 points and 12 rebounds) but here's a special shout out to unsung big man Dakari Johnson who nailed 7-of-10 FG tries for 15 points and 6 rebs against Louisville.

Johnson was a beast in that game and good for the post-game guys on TBS giving him his due!

If Johnson can bang his way to a double-digit point total here with his blue-collar in-the-paint play, then Michigan's in a heap of trouble because the only big body that might be able to nudge Johnson outside is Jordan Morgan - the man who drew that ultra-controversial charge call against Tennessee late in Friday's 73-71 hang-for-dear-life win - and we ain't sure Morgan can get mission accomplished here.

No question the maize-and-blue guys have lived high on the hog this tourney because of its three-point shooting skills as Michigan netted 11-of-20 triples against the never-say-die Vols after canning 14 trifectas in that round of 32 win against Texas ...but will standstill shooter Nik Stauskas (14 points including three triples against Tennessee) have unfettered looks at the hoop here and what will John Beilein's crew get from deep from the likes of G Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr.?

It's gonna be a numbers game here: If Michigan bags a dozen or more treys here, it will survive and advance to yet another Final Four ...but anything short of scoring a minimum 36 points from deep figures to sink 'em providing Kentucky finds its energy level sooner rather than later.
The "one-and-done" bunch of Kentucky isn't done quite yet!

NOTE: We'll have the first look at the NCAA Tournament's Final Four in the next edition of Jim Sez, do don't dare miss out!


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