Half of the Elite Eight action is over in the 2013 NCAA tournament, but Sunday's action promises to wrap up the regional finals with two extremely entertaining contests between some of the nation's best programs.
It could be argued that the Duke Blue Devils deserved a No. 1 seed, so their matchup with the Louisville Cardinals will have all the atmosphere of a Final Four tangle in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, it will be very interesting to see if the Florida Gators' strong defense can withhold the wrath of the Michigan Wolverines in the South regional title clash.
Here are updated predictions and analysis just ahead of the captivating showdowns that will round out the lineup for the national semifinals in Atlanta.
(1) Louisville Cardinals vs. (2) Duke Blue Devils
This battle of prolific head coaches in Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino will be a March Madness rematch of the unforgettable regional final clash between Duke and Kentucky in 1992.
Blue Devils big man Christian Laettner caught a full-court pass from Grant Hill and hit a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to pull out an overtime victory, as pointed out by Dana O'Neil of ESPN.
The Blue Devils have been a different team since star forward Ryan Kelly's return, and their defense has improved at the best possible time.
As well as Kelly scores the ball, it was his defense in the Sweet 16 on Michigan State big man Derrick Nix that keyed the team's 71-61 win, according to associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski (h/t CBS Sports).
Kelly had four blocks in that contest and will need a similar performance against the strong Louisville front line headlined by Big East Defensive Player of the Year Gorgui Dieng.
As the tournament's No. 1 seed, the Cardinals have not done anything to dismiss the notion that they are the best team in college basketball. But with Duke having so many scoring threats all over the floor, even the Cardinals' fantastic defense will be tested.
Seth Curry had 29 points against the Spartans, proving that any of the Blue Devils' starters can devastate quality opponents at any given time.
Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis points out another key to the game for Duke in overcoming Louisville's full-court press:
Seth Davis @SethDavisHoops
Huge for Duke tomorrow: Mason Plumlee's ability to bring up the ball against the press. Was decisive in The Bahamas.3/31/2013, 2:42:28 AM
Davis is referencing the Blue Devils' 76-71 triumph from earlier in the season. Given the stakes of this game, it should have a similar slim margin of victory, but slightly lower scoring.
It has been a bit too easy for the Cardinals so far in the Midwest, and in their first truly daunting test, Duke will emerge victorious to punch Coach K's 12th ticket to the Final Four. That will match legendary UCLA coach John Wooden for the all-time mark.
Prediction: Duke 68, Louisville 62
(3) Florida Gators vs. (4) Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines actually match up rather well with the Gators thanks to the emergence of freshman forward Mitch McGary, who has been sensational in the past two games with an average of 23 points and 14 rebounds.
McGary deserves a lot of credit for that production against formidable defenses like VCU and especially No. 1 seed Kansas, but he has been a beneficiary of Naismith Award finalist Trey Burke's play.
The super sophomore hit a massive, game-tying three to send the Jayhawks game into overtime, where Michigan pulled it out by two points.
If the Wolverines can pour in 87 points (76 in regulation) against the nation's No. 1 field-goal percentage defense, they shouldn't have too much of a letdown facing this stout Florida squad.
Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin will guard Burke for the majority of this one, but should find it difficult to defend him. Burke has teammates in Tim Hardaway Jr. and versatile forward Glenn Robinson III who can handle the ball, allowing him to use his superior quickness to catch and shoot or quickly weave into the paint.
Patric Young is a formidable presence on the inside for Florida, but Robinson's athleticism will force Erik Murphy out of the lane. As long as the Wolverines can push the pace early, they should be able to jump out to an early lead thanks to their incredible transition game.
Hardaway should neutralize the impact that Gators guard Mike Rosario will have from a scoring standpoint, as Florida has not faced an offense nearly of the Wolverines' caliber all tournament.
As amazing as the Big Ten conference was throughout the season, it would be shocking if one squad didn't represent the league in Atlanta. This is a favorable matchup for Michigan overall. It will be close, but that's bad news for the Gators, who are 0-6 in games decided by single digits.
Prediction: Michigan 78, Florida 75
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