The NCAA tournament is nearing its thrilling conclusion, and given how evenly matched these Elite Eight games are, there’s little doubt there’s plenty of madness left in March.
Whether it’s Dayton gunning for the huge upset or Kentucky trying to finish off an improbable comeback, the tournament’s penultimate weekend has plenty in store for viewers.
Read on for an updated bracket and complete list of my predictions for these games, with a spotlight on one big matchup in particular.
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|Matchup||Time (ET)||TV Info||Prediction|
|(11) Dayton vs. (1) Florida||Saturday, 6:09 p.m.||TBS||FLA|
|(2) Wisconsin vs. (1) Arizona||Saturday, 8:49 p.m.||TBS||ARI|
|(7) Connecticut vs. (4) Michigan State||Sunday, 2:20 p.m.||CBS||MICH ST|
|(8) Kentucky vs. (2) Michigan||Sunday, 5:05 p.m.||CBS||KEN|
(2) Wisconsin vs. (1) Arizona
While the other games in the Elite Eight feature some surprising lower seeds taking on some of the top teams in the nation, this matchup is between the region’s two heavyweights.
Arizona and Wisconsin didn’t seem the likeliest pair of teams to end up meeting at this point in the tournament, despite their high seeds, but they should still produce a good game.
Each team plays a slower, methodical style of basketball—a quick glance at possessions per game rankings shows that the Wildcats average 67.1 possessions while the Badgers only get up to about 64.9 per game.
However, the difference between them emerges when it comes to what they do with those possessions. Wisconsin might seem plodding, but they’re actually one of Ken Pomeroy’s top teams in offensive efficiency.
The Wildcats can certainly put points up, as they’re 19th in those same rankings, but their real strength is on defense. They’re tops in the game in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings.
Even presenting such a matchup in terms of these statistics shows the stark contrast between the two squads. Arizona’s Sean Miller has embraced the analytics movement, while Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan very much belongs to the sport’s “old school.”
"Looking at some numbers doesn't make a guy a better rebounder or better defender or better shooter," Ryan told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd.
While Ryan might be wise to not dismiss these stats offhand, he does have a point that examining the actual players in the game has some merit as well.
But, much like the advanced statistics, these individual matchups seem to favor the Wildcats as well.
Arizona doesn’t have much in the way of frontcourt depth, which could present a problem against Wisconsin big men like Frank Kaminsky, but their starters have plenty of talent to make up for it.
However, the Badgers might not have an answer for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona’s 6’7” small forward.
When Hollis-Jefferson comes off the bench, Miller can use him both as a small forward and a guard, presenting a big matchup disadvantage for Wisconsin.
Should Miller keep him in the swingman role, Wisconsin will be forced to go big and throw one of their reserve big men into the lineup or try and contain him with the 6’3” Josh Gasser or 6’2” Traevon Jackson.
That type of athleticism advantage vastly favors Arizona, as the Arizona Republic’s Scott Bordow notes.
Oh, and I think Arizona has an easier time with Wisconsin because Badgers don't have athletes to match up. Final Four beckons for Cats— scott bordow (@sbordow) March 28, 2014
However, the Cats will still have to play their stifling brand of defense to win.
Specifically, if they contain Wisconsin’s three point shooting, they’ve got a shot to take this one, as College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster explains.
Wisconsin shoots 37.6% from beyond the arc. They get almost two-thirds of their scoring on three-pointers. Arizona is as good as anyone in the country at chasing shooters off of the three-point line, but since they do it out of the pack-line defense, it can be difficult for opponents to take advantage of that by pounding the ball inside. The Badgers need to shoot well.
The Wildcats only allowed opponents to shoot 31.9 percent from three during the year, and if they can keep that up against Wisconsin, they’ll have no trouble winning.
Ryan has been able to pilot the Badgers to another deep tournament run thanks to his increased emphasis on offense, but he’s likely met his match with Miller’s defense.
The Wildcats are certainly vulnerable depth-wise, but they more than make up for it with their athleticism and punishing defensive scheme.
This should be a tense, back-and-forth game, but Arizona seems like the sure bet to make it the Final Four.