Elite 8 2013: Breaking Down Every Matchup

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 29:  Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals reacts after they won 77-69 against the Oregon Ducks during the Midwest Region Semifinal round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 29, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

And then there were eight. The Elite Eight to be exact. 

The 2013 NCAA tournament has delivered plenty of upsets and action packed games for college basketball fans, but now things are about to get real serious. With only eight teams in the field remaining, the Final Four is now a tangible goal for every team left. 

These teams have all weathered a competitive field to make it to this point, and now stand one more win away from adding a Final Four appearance to their school's basketball legacy. 

Here's a look at each of the four matchups along with players to watch and predicted winners. 

No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 3 Marquette

When: March 30 at 4:30 p.m. ET

Player to Watch: Vander Blue, Marquette

The Orange's 2-3 zone defense has stifled opponents thus far. They held Indiana to a mere 50 points in its Sweet 16 matchup and hasn't allowed opponents to shoot better than 39 percent from the floor. 

Marquette was able to have success on the low block with Devante Gardner, who went for a career-high 26 points in their regular-season matchup. The Golden Eagles held on to a lead late to lock up a 74-71 victory. 

This time around, it's unlikely that Gardner has the same success. The Orange are coming off a game in which they only allowed Indiana big man Cody Zeller to score 10 points and have clearly upped their game in the tournament. 

That means it will be up to guard Vander Blue to break the Orange zone. Blue has been clutch for the Golden Eagles down the stretch, putting up scoring nights of 16, 29 and 14 in the tournament and sinking the game-winning layup against Davidson in the round of 64. 

His ability to get in the lane and score will be key to this matchup.

Prediction: Syracuse 64, Marquette 60

Marquette has done a tremendous job of pulling out close games in the tournament, but this could be the end of their run. 

The Orange have been plain dominant thus far. From an 81-34 drubbing in the round of 64 to the 61-50 win over top-seed Indiana, the Orange are playing at a consistently high level. Marquette has been impressive as well, but they had a close call against Davidson and Butler before beating a Miami team that couldn't buy a bucket.

Expect Syracuse to once again pack in the lane and force Marquette to beat them on the outside. The Golden Eagles aren't the kind of team that want to light it up from the outside (they've only taken 18 in the last two games) and that could come back to beat them. 

This will be a game marked by physicality and tenacity. Those are the kind of games that Syracuse should have the edge in. 

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Wichita State

When: March 30 at 7:05 p.m. ET

Player to Watch: Aaron Craft, Ohio State

Deshaun Thomas may be the leading scorer for the Buckeyes, but it's Aaron Craft that makes this team go. 

He's the team's top distributor on offense and a major annoyance for opposing ball handlers on the defensive side of the floor. He's averaging 4.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game on the season and has at least five assists in each of the team's tournament games. 

He drew a tough assignment against Mark Lyons in the Sweet 16 game against Arizona, but should be much more active in the passing lanes in this contest. 

When Craft isn't on the floor, the Buckeyes are a very different team. During one stretch without him, the Wildcats went on an 11-4 run. Figuring out how to stop Craft will need to be the Shockers' top priority.

Prediction: Ohio State 75, Wichita State 65

The Shockers have rode some otherworldly shooting to this point in the tournament. They shot an astounding 14-of-28 from three-point range in their upset win over No. 1 seed Gonzaga and jumped out to an early 14-2 lead that they never relinquished against La Salle.

However, they won't run away with this one, and depending on that kind of shooting is a dangerous proposal. After all, the Shockers have shot just 44 percent as a team all season.

Ohio State has been challenged in back-to-back games against Arizona and Iowa State, but they showed great resolve in coming up with clutch shots down the stretch.

Expect Craft to lead the way as Ohio State's clutch shooting puts them in the Final Four.

No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 2 Duke

 When: March 31

Player to Watch: Seth Curry, Duke

Seth Curry lived up to his family name with his performance against Michigan State in the Sweet 16. 

The younger brother of Stephen Curry scored 29 points and nailed 6-of-9 three-pointers to finish the the Spartans. 

With a matchup coming up against one of the best defensive teams in the country, Curry will need to be in top form to get going against the Cardinals. Louisville's defense has not allowed any player to score more than 15 points in this tournament. 

If Curry doesn't score more than 15 in this one, the Blue Devils' chances of earning a Final Four berth goes down dramatically.

Prediction: Louisville 60, Duke 55

The Cardinals are just too complete to be beat before the Final Four. 

Seth Curry's performance has been nice, but Russ Smith has been a force for the Cardinals and should be able to match Curry basket for basket. The Cardinals shot over 50 percent as a team in their Sweet 16 win over Oregon, and Gorgui Dieng was once again an anchor on defense with four blocks. 

The Cardinals entered the tournament as the overall No. 1 seed for a reason. They are the most consistent team in college basketball and haven't faltered yet. 

If Curry goes absolutely unconscious and the Devils start raining shots from the outside, they may pull off the upset. The more likely scenario is that the Cardinals tighten up the D down the stretch and seal a Final Four bid.

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 3 Florida

When: March 31

Player to Watch: Trey Burke, Michigan

With all due respect to big man Mitch McGary's incredible 25-point, 14-rebound performance against Kansas, Trey Burke is the reason that the Wolverines have made it this far. 

McGary put forth his second straight 20-plus point, 10-plus rebound game in the tournament, but it was Burke's gutsy shooting in the second half and overtime that elevated Michigan down the stretch. Burke was held scoreless in the first half against the Jayhawks, but finished the game with 23 points and 10 assists. 

When Michigan's guards are playing well, they are one of the best teams in the country. They've shown that. McGary will play an important role on the inside in this one, but it's Burke's ability to facilitate and shoot from the outside that will be the X-factor against Florida.

Prediction: Michigan 77, Florida 72

Michigan has been one of the most impressive teams in the tournament to this point. 

Burke has been a revelation running the point. McGary has done big things in the paint and Glen Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway, Jr. have provided timely shots in their roles. When a team as deep as Michigan is clicking, they're tough to beat. 

The Gators enter the Elite Eight on the strength of a 62-50 win over tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast in which they forced the Eagles into 20 turnovers. 

The Wolverines won't fall into the same trap. They averaged the fewest turnovers per game this season at just 9.3. 


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