Loyola vs Nevada
I don’t get how Loyola keeps winning. They lull teams to sleep with their slow pace and then wait til the last two seconds of the game to take the lead. They play with a similar style to Virginia, who got absolutely blown out in the first round. Loyola hasn’t played the best offensive teams in the tournament in the first two rounds, but Nevada has a pretty solid offense and finished their last game on a 34-8 run to send Cincinnati home. Caleb and Cody Martin are going to look to have a field day with the undersized frontcourt of Loyola. They should have no problem with Cameron Kurtwig down low and should be able to run their pick and roll at the top of the key more efficiently than they did against Cincinnati. As we saw in the last game, Nevada can figure out a way to take advantage of a team that doesn’t have a high scoring offense. It might take them the whole game to figure it out, but they will figure it out. In their first two games of the tournament, Loyola forced its opponents to play at their pace of play. They wanted to make Miami shoot shots inside the three point line, and they wanted to force Tennessee to stay out of the middle of the lane, which they did successfully in both games. I think they’ll take a similar approach to the Tennessee game with Nevada because of the big man trio that Nevada plays with. Loyola has a very slow, methodical offense whereas Nevada plays a run and gun style offense. This game is going to come down to who can control the tempo of the game. Nevada struggled with this early in the game in the first two rounds, but figured it out towards the end of the game. I expect a slow start to the game for both teams, but Nevada should be able to control the second half after Eric Musselman makes his halftime adjustments. This is Sister Jean vs the Shirtless coach and I think this is finally where Loyola’s run ends. If Caleb and Cody Martin along with Jordan Caroline can stay out of foul trouble, Nevada should win this game fairly easily. Nevada 70 Loyola 65. (If Loyola somehow wins this game, this will be one of the worst tournaments in recent history, I hate watching that boring style of basketball, give me points, points, points)
Texas A&M vs Michigan
Both of these teams had pretty shocking victories in the round of 32, but they were shocking in different ways. A&M blew out a UNC team that was expected by a lot of people to make another Final Four run and Michigan won their game on a last second prayer by Jordan Poole. A&M played extremely efficiently and their guards helped out Tyler Davis which is not usually the case for them. Davis usually does a bulk of the work in the game and just kinda hopes that his teammates help him out. DJ Hogg and TJ Starks were a huge part of Texas A&M’s success against UNC as the duo combined for 35 points. Tyler Davis will need their help again when they play Michigan. Foul trouble and bad three point shooting has been the story for Michigan so far. Their defense has played well, as expected, but their offense hasn’t seemed to click yet. They shot just 31.3% and 26.7% from three point range in their first two games, not great for a team that relies heavily on the three point shot for their offense. On the other side of the ball, Michigan has held their opponents to under 40% shooting twice so far, 32.1% and 37%. This could be an issue for the Aggies if they don’t come out firing on all cylinders right away. This game could be a dogfight due to Michigan’s stellar defense. I expect that John Beilein tore into his team after their poor shooting performances and has stressed to them that playing like that will not buy them a spot in the Elite 8. I think beating UNC could have been a highlight of Texas A&M’s season so they may come out a little flat against Michigan. I think Michigan will figure out their problems on offense and walk away with another narrow victory. Michigan 67 Texas A&M 63.
Kansas State vs Kentucky
KSU had an easier road to this game thanks to UMBC knocking off top ranked Virginia (still can’t believe that happened). Kentucky seems to be clicking on offense and defense and that’s very upsetting to me. The biggest question in this game is going to be, is Dean Wade healthy? If he’s healthy and can play a full game, Kansas State gets their top scorer and best player back for their toughest game of the tournament so far. Freshman Mike McGuirl stepped up in the First Round adding 17 points to K-State’s victory and Barry Brown had 18 in both of the first two games. Kansas State has not played great on offense and has had to rely on their defense to win them games. What does “not great on offense mean?” How about shooting 8.3% from three point range. Kansas State has excelled in the rebounding battle, but I don’t see them continuing that trend against a lengthy Kentucky team. Kentucky won their game against Davidson without making a three point shot and then shot 46.7% from behind the line against Buffalo. Kentucky has given up a lot of points, but have also scored a lot. They’ve scored 78 and 95 points in their first two games and have a height and size advantage over Kansas State, like they did in their first two games. The Wildcats should be able to win the rebounding battle which will allow them some opportunities for second chance points, which will come as a premium against a defensive minded Kansas State team. Kentucky has the mentality that any team can beat them on any day and that has served as extra motivation for them in postseason play. As much as I don’t like Kentucky, John Calipari has done a great job with this young team and should be able to lead them to another victory here to advance to the Elite 8. Kentucky 76 K State 67.
Florida State vs Gonzaga
Florida State has played two pretty solid opponents to get themselves to this point and Gonzaga just barely hung on against Ohio State. Florida State had some quality minutes off the bench, getting 46 of their 75 points from bench players. Terrance Mann came off the bench due to an injury, but he should be able to start in this game. FSU’s defense held a high powered Xavier offense to just 70 points. The length and quickness of Florida State can cause problems for any teams left in the tournament, not just Gonzaga. Florida State excels at putting pressure on the ball and forcing turnovers. Florida State played very well on offense in both of its first two games and I think it will continue to improve against Gonzaga. Gonzaga needs to protect the ball in order to have success in this game. The Bulldogs had 13 turnovers against Ohio State which caused them to lose their comfortable lead they had early in the game. It’d be ideal for Gonzaga to limit their turnovers to under 10 in order to be successful against a pesky Seminole defense. Zach Norvell Jr has been a nice surprise for Gonzaga and Mark Few hopes that Norvell Jr will continue to be a source of offense for his Bulldogs. This game is going to come down to whichever team possesses the ball more and turns it over less. Both offenses have the capability of scoring in the upper 70s and quite possibly the lower 80s, but the defenses and turnovers are going to be key. I think Gonzaga has a slight advantage on offense and FSU has a slight advantage on defense. If Gonzaga shoots above 40% from three point range and limits their turnovers to under 10, they’ll be the team moving on. Gonzaga 81 Florida State 75.