March Madness 2014 Bracket: Odds and Predictions for Sunday's Elite 8 Matchups

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March Madness 2014 Bracket: Odds and Predictions for Sunday's Elite 8 Matchups
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Everyone break out your riot gear; it's time to crown two more regional champions and complete our Final Four.

After Florida and Wisconsin advanced to Dallas on Saturday night, the two remaining games have a lot to live up to—and, again, riots to hopefully keep to a minimum on Sunday afternoon. The Gators, as expected, pulled off a double-digit victory over Dayton to become the only No. 1 seed to win its region, while the Badgers finally got Bo Ryan over one of the few lasting humps of his illustrious career.

The humps aren't so severe in the weekend's last two games. Of the four coaches, only Connecticut's Kevin Ollie, in just his second year with the Huskies, hasn't been to a Final Four. In fact, he's the only one to have not been to a championship game.

John Calipari and Tom Izzo each have national championship rings to place on their finger, and it was only 12 months ago John Beilein nearly had one of his own. Whereas Saturday night was mostly defined by teams getting over that one last edge, Sunday will be defined by which elite coach gets another elite notch in their belt of elitism. Or Connecticut will go to the Final Four. 

As for who has the inside track on adding those notches, let's take a quick look at both games, highlighting some important stats before making a prediction on the Final Four teams.

 

All Your Bracket Essentials

 

No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 4 Michigan State (East Region)

Elsa/Getty Images

Start Time: 2:20 p.m. ET

Watch: CBS

Stream: March Madness Live

Spread: Michigan State -5.5 (Vegas Insider)

 

Important Stats

Zero: The number of No. 7 seeds to ever reach the Final Four, a historic run of struggles that puts Connecticut in a bind. No. 7 seeds have a 0-7 all-time record in the Elite Eight, with the most recent being Florida in 2012. You can see the machinations behind this stat when looking at Connecticut. The Huskies are playing their third out of the top four seeds in the East on Sunday. That's not exactly the easiest road. 

Six: The number of Final Fours Tom Izzo has reached. The Michigan State coach is on the precipice of continuing or ending one of the greatest streaks in college sports: Every player to reach his senior season under Izzo has been to at least one Final Four.  

Twenty-eight and nine: The number of points and rebounds, respectively, Adreian Payne has put up in the two games since his 41-point, eight-rebound outburst against Delaware in the round of 64. This, folks, is what we call a regression to the mean. A regression the Spartans probably can't afford to continue.

Fifty and 19: The number of points and rebounds, respectively, Branden Dawson has put up over those same two contests, more than making up for the downtick in production from Payne. Now we'll just have to see whether a similar regression is in order for Dawson.

Twelve: The number of games Shabazz Napier has scored 20 or more points this season, including two of three in the NCAA tournament.  

Seventeen: The number of games Shabazz Napier has shot below 40 percent from the field. 

 

Prediction

Elsa/Getty Images

Michigan State is favored here for good reason. The Spartans were the preseason No. 2 team in the country, and the returns of Payne and Dawson have them fully healthy and peaking at the right time. The NCAA tournament is defined by teams bucking expectations to upset highly touted rivals, but picking Michigan State in the East is starting to look like an argument in favor of groupthink.

Who wins?

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Payne and Dawson give the Spartans a distinct advantage inside, where DeAndre Daniels and Amida Brimah are going to have more than they bargained for down low. Either Daniels or Ryan Boatright are going to have to step up with a huge game for Connecticut to have enough scoring punch to keep up, and the former's two-way responsibility combined with the latter's continued struggles from the field make that a 50-50 proposition at best.

Accuscore says the Spartans win this game 72 percent of the time. For all of the strong performances Connecticut has put up in the tournament thus far, the outcome here feels like a formality. (Please never bring up this sentence again when the Huskies win by 50.)

Score: Michigan State 75, Connecticut 67

 

 

No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan (Midwest Region)

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Start Time: 5:05 p.m. ET

Watch: CBS

Stream: March Madness Live

Spread: Kentucky -2.5 (Vegas Insider)

 

Important Stats

Four: The number of Elite Eight appearances John Calipari has made during his five seasons with Kentucky. The lone exception was last season, when the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA tournament—a first in nearly a decade for Calipari.

Nine: The number of NCAA tournament games Kentucky has won in a row, dating back to its 2012 national championship. This, of course, ignores last season's absence. But, hey, streaking!

One: The number of people named Willie Cauley-Stein that Kentucky will have to play without on Sunday. Calipari told reporters that the 7-foot defensive anchor suffered an ankle injury in the first half and didn't look near a return to the floor: "He's still in a boot. He's doubtful...I'd be stunned if he played."

Four: Michigan's national ranking in three-point percentage, the highest among remaining tournament teams. The Spartans also take 40.3 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, per Ken Pomeroy (subscription required), also tops among our remaining six.  

Ten: The number of three-pointers made by Nik Stauskas in three tournament games thus far. Stauskas, the Big Ten Player of the Year, takes more than half of his shots from beyond the arc and has rocketed up draft boards thanks to his ability to make threes in a variety of ways. Not bad for a kid who was mostly known as the "other" starter on last year's national finalist team 

Twenty-three: The number of double-doubles Julius Randle has this season, the most in the nation and one of the highest totals in history from a freshman. Randle's one-season stop in Lexington has mostly been an up-and-down affair, where ascended to No. 1 on some draft boards early before real questions about his pro acumen started creeping in. He's still not the nightly 20 and 10 some thought he was coming in, but 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds aren't half bad, either.

 

Prediction

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

This matchup is inherently less predictable. Kentucky has so many wild cards adorning its roster you almost never feel comfortable riding with them. Andrew and Aaron Harrison are capable of throwing up 39 points on efficient shooting the way they did against Wichita State or nearly shooting Kentucky out of the game the way they have...a lot. It's concerning that James Young, shooting 40.4 percent on the season, is often seen as the Wildcats' steadying offensive force.

Who wins?

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Not that Michigan is without its concerns.

The Wolverines may have learned to play without Mitch McGary over the course of the season, but his shadow still looms. Jordan Morgan defended Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes admirably in the Sweet 16 and may do so again against Randle and Dakari Johnson. Over the course of the season, though, Michigan has struggled to find consistent defensive intensity—specifically in the paint area.

The reality here is that either team can win. It's always sexier to bloviate and pretend one team is garbage and the other a guaranteed national champion, but that's not the case here. Kentucky and Michigan will probably and should be an underdog against Wisconsin in the Final Four, where their inherent flaws will come out.

For now, Kentucky has taken out two regional favorites already. Why not a third?

Score: Kentucky 76, Michigan 72

 

All advanced stats via KenPom. 

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