CONNECTICUT beats SAN DIEGO STATE
People need to talk less about Kemba Walker's skill and more about his will. The Huskies' 6'1" junior guard looked battered in the late stages of the third-round game against Cincinnati, but he still had 33 points and six boards and made all 14 of his free throws. Walker trusts freshman wings Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith more than he did earlier this season, which makes UConn that much tougher to defend. The Aztecs showed resilience in beating Temple in double OT, but guard D.J. Gay & Co. do not have enough offensive firepower to keep up with Walker and his running mates.
DUKE BEATS ARIZONA
March 27, 2011
It's not often that the Blue Devils play a game in which they don't have the best player on the court, but that will be the case here. Wildcats 6'8" sophomore forward Derrick Williams is the best player in the tournament, and his multifaceted skills pose a challenge for Duke. Then again, the Blue Devils' guard tandem of Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving is an equally vexing problem for the Wildcats. Irving will benefit from additional days of practice, which will allow the coaching staff to figure out the best way to deploy him. Williams will get his stats, but Duke's strength on the perimeter will be the difference.
DUKE beats CONNECTICUT
This is the sexiest regional final on the board. These storied programs have waged some of the most memorable games in the history of the tournament, and they feature two dynamic guards in Walker and Smith. Finally, though, the Huskies' youth will catch up with them. The UConn freshmen have made great strides in the last month, but Walker has a tendency to try to be a hero and force shots. The key to the game will be Duke's 6'10" Plumlee brothers, Mason and Miles, who have active bodies but don't always compete as hard as they should. This time they will, and they'll send the Blue Devils back to the Final Four.
NORTH CAROLINA beats MARQUETTE
I keep waiting for North Carolina freshman point guard Kendall Marshall (14 assists with just four turnovers against Washington) to get flustered ... and I'm still waiting. With Marshall playing with poise and setting a quick tempo, UNC poses too many problems for the Golden Eagles, who must rely on their perimeter defense because they can't match the Tar Heels' size. The front line of Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson will overpower Marquette, which isn't going to be bailed out again by the shooting of junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom.
OHIO STATE beats KENTUCKY
Youthful exuberance can take a team only so far. Like Kentucky, Ohio State depends on freshmen (Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft). Unlike the Wildcats, OSU also relies on upperclassmen, including two of the most versatile perimeter defenders in the country (senior David Lighty and junior William Buford). Combined with Craft, who led the Big Ten in steals, that trio will present the toughest test that freshman point guard Brandon Knight and Kentucky have faced. UK's success has thus far belied its inexperience; against an experienced team that can match the Cats' talent, their run comes to an end.
OHIO STATE BEATS NORTH CAROLINA
For a team that performed so consistently, the Buckeyes had a lot of close games during Big Ten play. That's what prepared them to win this one. The Tar Heels are one of the fastest teams in the country, but Ohio State will be able to use Craft, Lighty and Buford to control the pace. Plus, if Buckeyes coach Thad Matta wants to go big, he can turn to senior center Dallas Lauderdale, one of the nation's strongest rebounders and shot blockers. Up front, Henson and Zeller are more about finesse than power, and I love the matchup of Lighty defending Barnes. Ohio State is just too savvy and too good.
FLORIDA beats BYU
These teams played a double OT classic in the first round of last year's tournament, with BYU winning 99--92 on the strength of 37 points from Jimmer Fredette. Gators guard Erving Walker was as bad as Fredette was good, shooting 4 for 16 from the floor and attempting just one free throw. The 5'8" Walker has come a long way, though, as he demonstrated in Florida's third-round win over UCLA by shooting 8 for 10 from the stripe and scoring 21 points. Fredette will again win this individual matchup, but Florida's bigs—Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Patric Young—will rule the paint and earn the victory.
BUTLER beats WISCONSIN
The Bulldogs and the Badgers mirror each other in so many ways: First and foremost, both are led by tough, strong, smart guards. Butler's Shelvin Mack dropped 30 on Pitt, hitting 7 of 12 threes, while Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor has struggled from the field but handed out 12 assists with just three turnovers. The teams also have versatile forwards (Butler's 6'8" Matt Howard and Wisconsin's 6'10" Jon Leuer), and both are comfortable slugging it out in the half-court. The winner will be the squad that has more March magic, and with a pair of close wins, Butler is wielding the more potent wand.
FLORIDA BEATS BUTLER
When the two teams met in the first round of 2000, Mike Miller hit a buzzer-beater for the Gators in overtime. If this game follows that script, the shot will come from Chandler Parsons, the SEC player of the year, who has a history of late-game dramatics. The 6'10" forward's combination of size, skill and smarts is Florida's best asset; he leads the team in rebounds and assists, and he hits 37.5% of his threes. The Gators don't overwhelm teams with future NBA talent; all they do is win. They're not going to stop doing that here.
VCU beats FLORIDA STATE
These teams pulled off the two most surprising wins of the weekend. The 11th-seeded Rams carved up a terrific Purdue defense—thanks largely to 5'10" senior point guard Joey Rodriguez, who had 11 assists and no turnovers—while the 10th-seeded Seminoles shut down Notre Dame's potent scoring attack. VCU has the best offensive player (6'9" senior forward Jamie Skeen), while Florida State has the best defensive player (6'9" junior forward Chris Singleton). The difference is that the Rams can also play some nasty D of their own, while FSU sometimes struggles to score.
KANSAS beats RICHMOND
One thing the Spiders fear is a mobile big man who can defend out to the three-point line. Kansas doesn't have one—it has four. That will spell trouble for 6'10" senior forward Justin Harper, who hits 45.2% from beyond the arc. Richmond's underrated defense presents a challenge for the Jayhawks, but thanks to veteran guards like Tyrel Reed, they move the ball better than any team Bill Self has coached, which is why they lead the nation in field goal percentage (51.4%). KU can match Richmond's efficiency, but the Spiders have no hope of matching the Jayhawks' size and speed.
KANSAS BEATS VCU
You have to be a little lucky to get to the Final Four. The Jayhawks' three main challengers—Notre Dame, Purdue and Louisville—all lost in the first weekend. VCU's Cinderella run started in the First Four, but the clock will strike midnight against a far superior Kansas team. Besides having more talent, the Jayhawks are comfortable playing the Rams' up-tempo style. One potential question mark for KU has been the inconsistent play of junior point guard Tyshawn Taylor, but it seems that Taylor and his mates have found a solid rhythm.
OHIO STATE BEATS DUKE
Duke has had a bad habit this season of firing up three-pointers in a tight spot. Well, this is going to be a tight spot. The Buckeyes aren't disruptive on defense, but they excel at closing off dribbling and passing lanes without fouling. And while the Blue Devils need to force turnovers and score in transition, Ohio State knows how to take care of the ball.
KANSAS BEATS FLORIDA
Gators guards Walker and Kenny Boynton are streaky scorers who have had hot hands of late. Still, they don't scare anyone with their defense. They will have a hard time containing their backcourt counterparts Reed, Taylor and Brady Morningstar, and if a team can't handle those guys, it makes the task of corralling the Morris twins—6'9" Marcus and 6'10" Markieff—that much harder. Kansas is too fast, deep and tough to lose this one.
If both teams play to their potential, Kansas will win. The question, then, is whether Kansas will play to its potential. Under Self the Jayhawks are one of those teams that gets better the deeper it goes into the tournament. Once it reaches the grandest stage in Houston, I expect this team to rise to the occasion.
For Seth Davis's video analysis of every round of the Big Dance, go to SI.com
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