The time for cutting down the nets has arrived. With the Sweet 16 concluding Friday night and just eight teams remaining in the 2013 NCAA tournament, Saturday will mark the first opportunity for squads to make their way to Atlanta for the Final Four.
The inherent importance of these matchups is obvious. Teams navigate the minefield known as the first weekend, avoiding upsets just so they can face a two-game gauntlet of other top-flight opponents.The eight remaining squads deserve to be here more than any others, and Saturday's games should be excellent as a result.
In the East Region, the Big East will continue going out with a bang when third-seeded Marquette takes on fourth-seeded Syracuse. The Orange and Golden Eagles both came into their Sweet 16 games as underdogs but used patented Big East defensive intensity to pull out victories. With conference realignment destroying the Big East as previously constituted, these two squads will be facing off for the last time as a member of the same conference.
The West Region gives fans their last chance at a true Cinderella. Wichita State will attempt to be the second No. 9 seed in history to make the Final Four, as the Shockers will face off against second-seeded Ohio State. The Buckeyes have been their own Cardiac Kids during this season's Dance, making last-second shots to avoid upsets in two of their three contests.
With two great games on tap, you won't want to miss a second of the Elite Eight action. Here is a complete breakdown of the two games and where you can catch them on television and streaming services.
East Region: No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles vs. No. 4 Syracuse Orange
When: Saturday, March 30 at 4:30 p.m ET
Where: Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Stream: March Madness Live
In the only region where all four top seeds made the Sweet 16, it's only right that things went right to bedlam in Thursday night's action.
Marquette got 30 points off the bench from Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner and had a 35-31 rebounding edge versus the Miami Hurricanes, who dearly missed center Reggie Johnson. The Eagles were able to pound the ball inside, shooting 54 percent from the floor, as they took just six shots beyond the arc all game long—important for a team that cannot shoot from outside.
Syracuse also avoided the outside for the most part, making only four three-point field goals, but its calling card was its smothering defense. Running Jim Boeheim's patented 2-3 zone system, the Orange suffocated Indiana's vaunted offense, holding the Hoosiers to a season-low 50 points en route to an 11-point victory. Michael Carter-Williams poured in a season-high 24 points and took over the game down the stretch.
While Carter-Williams has the ability to again ascend versus Marquette—though Boeheim assuredly doesn't want him taking 19 shots in consecutive games—Syracuse will again rely on its defense to lead the way.
Marquette is one of the worst shooting teams in the nation from outside, making just 30.5 percent of its three-point shots for the season. The Eagles have just one regular rotation player (Wilson) who is even an above-average shooter, and they have gotten a disconcerting 18.4 percent of their points from beyond the arc this season—by far the lowest rate among teams remaining in the Dance.
That could be critical considering how well Syracuse's zone protects on the inside. The Orange block more shots than any team in the country, force opposing teams to shoot just a 42.9 effective field goal percentage and collapse beautifully inside the paint. Boeheim's zone in particular is fantastic at limiting paint touches and closing out on three-point shooters.
During the teams' first matchup, Marquette found a way to win by exploiting minuscule holes on the elbow and mid-paint. Gardner had the game of his life, making all seven of his shots and draining 12-of-13 from the free-throw line, and someone may have to do the same on Saturday.
West Region: No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 9 Wichita State Shockers
When: Saturday, March 30 at 7:05 p.m ET
Where: Staples Center in Los Angeles
Stream: March Madness Live
One of these teams had needed last-second shots in two of its three games, barely scraped by two seeds six or higher and has allowed 70 points or more in every contest—the other is No. 9 seed Wichita State.
The Shockers came in considered a mid-major on their way to a round-of-64 exit. They head into the Elite Eight as arguably the most dominant team in the West Region. Two of the team's three wins thus far have come by double-digits. The other, versus No. 1 seed Gonzaga, was arguably the biggest upset in the tournament not involving Florida Gulf Coast.
Wichita State can essentially thank the ascent of Malcolm Armstead for its good March fortune. The senior point guard, who took mostly a distributor's role during the season, has become the team's biggest scoring threat in the Big Dance. He's averaging 16 points per game, nearly six points higher than his season average, and took over down the stretch versus La Salle in the Sweet 16.
Ohio State, on the other hand, has gotten clutch performances from multiple players en route to its regional final berth. Aaron Craft was the hero in the round of 32, and LaQuinton Ross did the same to Arizona on Thursday night. The two thrilling finishes have nearly overshadowed Deshaun Thomas, who has scored 22 points per game and made nearly 58 percent of his shots thus far.
Statistical evidence points to Thomas having the opportunity for some last-second heroics of his own on Saturday. The Buckeyes and Shockers are two very similar teams, playing slightly below average paces and keeping a mostly strict man-to-man defensive scheme. Both are good, not great offensive clubs and excel by forcing opposing teams into errant attempts late in the shot clock.
What may ultimately push the odds in Ohio State's favor is the Shockers' penchant for turnovers. Wichita State ranks 151st in the nation in turnover rate at 19.6 percent, putting them in the bottom half of teams remaining in the Big Dance.
The Buckeyes, outside of Craft, aren't especially strong at forcing turnovers. But in a game where possessions will be at a premium, every one coughed away will take an exponentially higher significance.
All advanced stats are via KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
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