NCAA Basketball Tournament 2013: Predicting Final Elite 8 Games

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NCAA Basketball Tournament 2013: Predicting Final Elite 8 Games
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The field of 68 championship hopefuls has dwindled to just six deserving teams. Two more will fall on Sunday, setting up the final pairings before the national title showdown.

Saturday’s Elite Eight action came to a close with a bland affair between Big East opponents, and a surprising upset that saw No. 9 Wichita State advance past an enigmatic No. 2 Ohio State squad. The bottom half of the Final Four is now set, and Sunday’s action will determine the last teams standing for the South and Midwest Regions.

Let’s take a look at the final Elite Eight matchups and break down what to expect when the round’s remaining teams square off Sunday.

 

*All stats and rankings acquired from ESPN.com and TeamRankings.com.

 

No. 3 Florida vs. No. 4 Michigan: Sunday, March 31, at 2:20 p.m. ET on CBS

Despite similar seeding in the South Region, the Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines have had vastly different paths to the Elite Eight. While Michigan was forced to resort to late-game heroics in upsetting No. 1 Kansas on Friday, Florida cruised past No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast with a tremendous second-half performance.

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With an average margin of victory of 19.3 points, the Gators have yet to face a truly challenging test in the tournament. Head coach Billy Donovan’s sparkling 31-10 record in the Big Dance can’t be overlooked, and the Gators are riding a wave of momentum into this contest against a Michigan squad that showed some weakness against the Jayhawks.

The Wolverines trailed for most of the game in the Sweet 16 against No. 1 Kansas, crippled by a poor first-half performance from point guard Trey Burke. Michigan boasts a trio of terrific scorers, but Burke’s disappearing act in the first frame nearly sank the Wolverines before they could get started.

The sophomore came out firing in the second half, though, tallying 23 points in a monumental scoring effort that included a last-second three-pointer to send the game to overtime.

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Burke will have to come up big again in the Elite Eight, but he’ll face a difficult challenge. The Gators boast the No. 2 scoring defense in the country and have held opponents to just 30.3 percent from behind the arc this season.

Florida also features a talented duo of athletic big men in senior forward Erik Murphy and junior center Patric Young that will present a lot of matchup problems for a smaller Wolverines frontcourt. With senior guard Mike Rosario pacing Florida’s perimeter scoring effort, the Gators can play a deadly inside-out game at the offensive end.

Led by forward Mitch McGary, Michigan’s frontcourt has done enough to keep pace with opponents in the paint throughout the tournament. Averaging 19.7 points and 12.3 rebounds in the team’s first three games, the 6’10” freshman gives the Gators another strong scoring presence to worry about in this matchup.

Michigan can score a lot of points, but inexperience may play a factor in this contest. Florida is one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the nation with a lot of momentum. The Wolverines will mount a strong comeback effort in the second half, but a victory will be out of reach against the favored Gators.

Prediction: Florida 72, Michigan 67

 

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 1 Louisville: Sunday, March 31, at 5:05 p.m. ET on CBS

All eyes will be on Seth Curry and Russ Smith in this marquee Elite Eight showdown. Both have been tremendous in the tournament, leading their squads through a dangerous Midwest Region with almost no resistance.

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Smith dropped 31 points in Louisville’s 77-69 victory over the Oregon Ducks in the Sweet 16, raising his tournament scoring average to 27 points in the process. The junior guard is an electric talent who paces an exciting up-tempo offense averaging 79.3 points per game in the Big Dance.

Duke counters with Curry, who had an equally impressive Sweet 16 performance against the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans. Despite the difficult matchup, the Blue Devils cruised to a 71-61 victory, boosted by Curry’s 29-point outpouring.

The 6’2” senior nailed six three-pointers against Michigan State, and he’s fully capable of doing the same against Louisville on Sunday. If the Cardinals can’t find a way to contain Curry, this game could get ugly.

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The biggest question mark for the Blue Devils will be their ability to run the floor with an explosive, up-tempo Louisville offense that ranks No. 28 in the nation in points per game (74). Given Duke’s more calculated half-court offense, slowing the pace of the game will be critical for a Blue Devils victory.

Look for Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly to play a big factor in this matchup. The talented frontcourt duo has been a force in the tournament, combining for 25 points and 14 rebounds against Michigan State last round. With Kelly’s ability to stretch the floor and Plumlee’s physical inside presence, the Blue Devils have the pieces to control the tempo in the half court.

The Cardinals have had an impressive run, but they haven’t been tested yet in the tournament. Smith will have another quality effort at the offensive end, but Duke’s depth will prove to be too much to overcome.

Prediction: Duke 69, Louisville 66

 

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