Sunday Elite 8 Previews
THE NCAA TOURNAMENT REPORT: SUNDAY'S ELITE 8 MATCHUPS
Here's what is on tap for Sunday's NCAA Tournament Elite 8 games:
EAST REGIONAL FINAL - Syracuse, NY
#7 MICHIGAN STATE (26-11) vs. #4 LOUISVILLE (27-8) - 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS
Okay, so this isn't exactly the "first rodeo" for either Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo nor Louisville boss-man Rick Pitino - in fact, this is the third time in the past seven years that the two iconic coaches will be squaring off against one another in an NCAA Tournament game:
In 2012, the Louisville Cardinals copped a 57-44 win in Sweet 16 play and then go back to the 2009 season and you'll see that the Michigan State Spartans snagged a 64-52 win in Elite 8 play before eventually losing in the national championship game versus North Carolina.
Bit how many of you good Jim Sez folks had the seventh-seeded Spartans playing the fourth-seeded Redbirds in this round of play when you filled out your brackets two weeks ago? Exactly!
The best way for the 2.5-point favorite Michigan State squad to survive-and-advance into this year's Final Four is to be patient and not allow Louisville's matchup zone defense to set the tone - in other words, heady senior G Travis Trice (game-high 24 points in that come-from-behind 62-58 win against 1.5-point fav underdog Oklahoma this past Friday night) must do a great job in the hunt-and-peck mode of seeking out his shots and making sure the likes of Denzel Valentine (18 points on 17 FG attempts versus the Sooners) and Branden Dawson (just 6 points to go along with the 11 rebounds in the Sweet 16 win) get high-percentage shots against an active 'Ville defense that has hands flailing at all times.
Conversely, Louisville - attempting to play in its third Final Four the past four seasons - needs to dash out and get a load of fast-break points here with red-hot G Terry Rozier (17 points and 14 rebounds in Friday's gut-check 75-65 win against 2.5-point dog N.C. State) the ringleader of this attack but what the Cards received in the Sweet 16 win was a major energy jolt from reserve G Anton Gill who made all three of his FG tries for 7 points and had Pitino reminiscing afterwards about a 1987 Providence player that fit the same bill as Gill.
Naturally, Louisville big man Montrezl Harrell - who played all 40 minutes and registered a game-high 24 points - has to be the old junkyard dog that he's been throughout his college career but whether or not Harrell can collect a slew of "garbage" points against a Michigan State team that will likely play two very big men at the same time here is a major question.
Folks, we've been thinking all along this NCAA Tournament that sooner or later Michigan State's free-throw woes are gonna catch up with 'em but - despite a wobbly 9-of-16 FT night (yes, Sparty hit the late-game ones that mattered) against Oklahoma - it's not killed 'em yet.
Is this the time a 60-percent type FT-shooting night ends the Michigan State march through March?
Now, here's the NCAA Tournament roads that both Michigan State and Louisville have travelled so far ...
SOUTH REGIONAL FINAL - Houston, TX
#2 GONZAGA (35-2) vs. #1 DUKE (32-4) - 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS
In case you were wondering, here's the up-to-date list of Final Four appearances:
North Carolina's 18 Final Fours leads the way followed by UCLA with 17, Kentucky with 16 (while heading into its Elite 8 game versus Notre Dame) and Duke with 15.
P.S., Gonzaga has zero.
Yet when you start chit-chatting about experience here you gotta remember what Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said about Gonzaga right after the Blue Devils copped a 63-57 win/cover against 4.5-point underdog Utah in Friday's Sweet 16 game:
We know what Coach K was saying as this Gonzaga bunch has more than a few twenty-something guys on this team - and it only seems that the likes of PG Kevin Pangos have been here at the Spokane school since the mid-1980s! - and that's the strange dichotomy here because Duke's a bunch of freshmen kids that have jelled nicely and even surprised Krzyzewski lately with sterling efforts while the never-been-there-before 'Zags are the ones searching out this new Final Four experience.
No doubt the Dookies have allowed their big three of C Jahlil Okafor, PG Tyus Jones and F Justise Winslow to spearhead this NCAA Tournament run and seemingly they've taken turns at taking charge of the in-game situations although it must be duly noted that lefty Winslow - who poured in 21 points to go with his 10 rebounds in Friday's triumph against the Utes - has been the best player on this ACC squad throughout the tourney and his Houston homecoming didn't unnerve him in any way this past Friday night.
If Gonzaga's veteran bunch is gonna get hard-working head coach Mark Few into that first-ever Final Four, than here's a few things on the Bulldogs' to-do list that must be followed:
Gonzaga must keep Duke from getting out on the break and getting freed up for easy hoops - you no doubt saw the 'Zags held the UCLA Bruins to 38.8 percent shooting in Friday's 74-62 Sweet 16 win (although we're of the mind that lousy curtain background inside this building is a killer for all shooters, but we know the NCAA has to play these games in domes and cha-ching all the money it can get, right?)
The 'Zags also must make sure lefty C Przemek Karnowski (18 points, 9 rebound and two scintillating post passes for baskets) gets his touches even if he gets occasionally double-teamed in the paint - quick passes out to Kyle Wiltjer (just four made FGs against UCLA) and the aforementioned Pangos (just 1-of-7 from beyond the arc on a night when Gonzaga nailed just 3-of-19 triple tries) are key and those bucks simply have to hit their fair share of hoops ...Finally, Gonzaga's bench must be a major positive here - the West Coast Conference club garnered 18 bench points against the Uclans and survived some above-mentioned bad shooting nights from its starters. Has to happen again here, okay?
So, will it be one more Final Four in the Coach K files ... or is 2.5-point dog Gonzaga finally ready to reach that rarified air?
Houston, no problem here - this could be a hoops classic.
Now, here's the NCAA Tournament roads that both Gonzaga and Duke have travelled so far ...
No. Dakota St.
San Diego St.
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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