The number of games is dwindling, but the stakes are rising in the remaining NCAA tournament games. With Indiana surveying their gym for the best spot to display their second Sweet 16 banner in two years, it’s time to focus our energy on Saturday’s Elite Eight games which, thankfully, don’t feature any teams that offend our senses as Kentucky fans. Check out our original regional previews (MIDWEST, EAST, WEST, SOUTH), and if needed, check the games out online here: MARCH MADNESS LIVE. But I don’t recommend that. It is a Saturday, after all. Go socialize!
(4) Syracuse (29-9) vs (3) Marquette (26-8), 4:30 pm EST, Washington DC, CBS
This, my friends, is A Tale of Two Teams. Jim Boeheim and Buzz Williams will face-off in the final leg of their Big East exit tour, a fitting end to two very different coaches and their programs. If Syracuse is white collar, Marquette is blue collar. Williams is a hard-nosed X’s and O’s guy, known for his meticulous scouting of opponents; Boeheim, on the other hand, focuses on in-game execution. The two teams’ styles are drastically different on the court as well. Whereas Syracuse and their zone employ their length and athleticism to trap opponents (Here, I am compelled by KSR Law to insert the pun “Don’t let Cuse get in their zone. They’re definitely in their zone.” It’s in the small print by the Santa picture), Marquette defends like they are protecting the last remaining container of Dunkaroos on Earth (that is to say, passionately and in the “ball before body” mentality). Syracuse is long, strong, and down to get the friction on ever since their Big East tournament run to the finals; the team has gelled in the post-season and feels comfortable in their game. Marquette is a hard-nosed team that talks casually about pre-season boot camp. In the teams’ regular season meeting, Marquette earned the 74-71 win on the wings of Devante Gardner’s 26 points.
Players to watch? For Syracuse, guard Michael Carter-Williams helped put the game away versus Indiana. He scored ten of his 24 points during a 14-5 run with 9 minutes to go that ultimately sealed the deal against the Hoosiers. On Marquette’s side, Vander Blue has been living up to his pre-collegiate hype, averaging 19.7 points on 50% shooting in the tournament thus far, including the ice-in-his-veins three pointer against Butler in the round of 32.
(9) Wichita State Shockers (29-8) vs (2) Ohio State Buckeyes (29-7), 7:05 pm EST, Los Angeles, CBS
The Wiggins State Shockers (see what I did there) play fast and loose with defensive pressure and tenacious rebounding designed to unhinge their opponents. Although they’re strong down low, the Shockers could face matchup problems against a smaller Ohio State lineup. Ohio State will fight to avoid turnovers and remain poised in the face of a Wichita State team that’s thrilled to be making their first Elite Eight appearance since 1981 after beating top-seeded Gonzaga. The Buckeyes have been on the winning end of buzzer beaters in their past two games and are still riding an 11-game winning streak that began in the regular season. Wichita State must limit Deshaun Thomas on offense while going through forward Cleanthony Early and enjoying limited turnovers from Malcolm Armstead.
Players to watch: For Ohio State, Thomas can nearly score at will and averages 19.7 ppg. At 6’7″, Thomas can score from anywhere on the court and in a variety of ways- threes, floaters, jumpers, layups, dunks, you name it- and he’s enjoyed a green light from coaching staff to take some ridiculous shots. Although he’s an explosive offensive threat, Thomas is weak on defense. With Wichita State, Armstead scored 18 points in the win over LaSalle, including a string of buckets that emphatically responded to LaSalle’s attempts to seal the game. Again, limited turnovers from Armstead will be key in running Wichita State’s offense.
The most important thing I’ve learned in this research is that the Golden Eagle is the only mascot worth applauding. Go Marquette.