Elite 8: Predictions for Every Matchup and the Game's MVP
The NCAA tournament is coming slowly to an end with only eight teams left of the 68 that first made it. Since the tip of the inaugural First Four back on March 15, we have seen our share of upsets, blowouts, superstars and amazing games, and everything points to more of the same this weekend.
This Saturday begins the Elite 8 with legendary programs like the Connecticut Huskies, Kentucky Wildcats, North Carolina Tarheels, Arizona Wildcats, Kansas Jayhawks and Florida Gators all competing for coveted spots to the Final Four. Then, there are the two teams that weren't even supposed to make it this far, the VCU Rams, and last year's Cinderella, the Butler Bulldogs, that add to the intrigue.
All of these teams have proven themselves to be the cream of the crop and will no doubt be part of some memorable games this weekend. For some, this will be the last game of the year complete with the stinging finality of unrealized potential, while a win for others, such as the VCU Rams, could be an absolute program game-changer.
The stage is set, and here are my predictions for every game, along with who should be each game's MVP.
VCU Rams Vs. Kansas Jayhawks
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The VCU Rams have made an incredible run in this tournament, beginning with the play-in game all the way to getting to the Elite 8. They have been the underdog almost every time they have played this tournament, and still will be when they go against heavy favorites, the Kansas Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks are a very good team and a No. 1 seed. They have the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, who are first and second, respectively, in scoring and rebounding for the Jayhawks. But Kansas is not only the Morris brothers. They also have a great supporting cast that can shoot three pointers and go off at any time.
Tyrel Reed, Tyshawn Taylor, Josh Shelby, Thomas Robinson and Brady Morningstar are all capable of scoring in double-digits and are to a man, all very lethal players.
On the other side of the ball are the 11th seeded VCU Rams. The Rams were part of the new play-in game, and were considered by many (including myself) to be a first round exit, and possibly a second round exit at most. But the Rams seemed to take that into consideration and played their hearts out, and now find themselves in the Elite 8.
The Rams are led by a great new coach, Shaka Smart, who will be guaranteed to have a good game plan going in against the Jayhawks. The Rams have a very solid team with no solidified superstars, but two players who stand out at times.
Bradford Burgess, who averages 14 points per contest, will have to have a good game against the Jayhawks for the Rams to compete. Also, forward Jamie Skeen, who averages over 15 points per game must also come up big for the Rams to have a chance.
This should be a very interesting game, but I think all good things must come to an end, and this is VCU's time to exit.
That said, don't count them out, and this could be a very good game and possible upset in the making.
My prediction: Kansas Jayhawks 76 VCU Rams 68.
MVP: Marcus Morris, because of his presence in the post and the trouble VCU will be sure have guarding him down there.
North Carolina Tar Heels Vs. Kentucky Wildcats
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This is a game between two of the most historic programs in college basketball of all time, the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Kentucky Wildcats.
Both squads have legendary coaches and great teams meaning this game could be a real good one.
North Carolina was a two seed coming into the Elite 8, and are performing at a top level right now. Big man Tyler Zeller has been very big for the 'Heels this tournament and could have another impressive outing. Freshman Harrison Barnes has also been on fire lately, and can drop 25 points at any time while John Henson has the athleticism and length to help succeed on defense and on offense for North Carolina.
The player I'm keeping an eye out for on the Tar Heels is point guard Kendall Marshall, who could get up to 15 assists in this game and help North Carolina advance to their 19th Final Four appearance.
But the Tar Heels will have a tough test against the Kentucky Wildcats, a young athletic team who possesses a great big man that has been stepping it up lately, Josh Harrellson.
Harrellson can hang with some of the best big men in the county as he showed last night against possibly the best player in the country., Jared Sullinger.
The Wildcats also have two great freshman, Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight, who are very athletic players that can run the floor forever and help Kentucky blow out teams.
My only problem with Kentucky is how young they are.
And I think that will be the reason for them losing this game.
Prediction: North Carolina Tar Heels 67 Kentucky Wildcats 63.
MVP: Harrison Barnes, because I can't see anybody on Kentucky guarding him well enough, and why I think that will translate into him scoring 25 to 30 points.
Butler Bulldogs Vs. Florida Gators
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This will be a highly interesting game to watch because of the stark contrast between both teams.
The Florida Gators are an athletic team that can score a lot of points and play great defense while the Butler Bulldogs are more of a blue-collar team that just gets it done.
Both coaches have done magnificent jobs at both programs, Brad Stevens leading the Bulldogs to a National Championship appearance last year and only losing by two to Duke, and Billy Donovan, who won back to back national titles in 2006 and 2007.
The Gators have a lot of talent and can score and rebound extremely well. Chandler Parsons, in particular, can do everything on the court: score, pass, rebound and play very good defense. Erving Walker and Kenny Boyton, who are both guards, can shoot the three pointer and stretch the defense very well.
The player to watch for the Gators though is Alex Tyus who has been on a hot streak in the tournament. Against BYU, Tyus had 17 rebound and 19 points, and don't expect his production to stop in this game.
That being said, the Butler Bulldogs will have the momentum and experience going into this game after getting through last year's tournament. The Bulldogs, of course, are without their star player from last year Gordon Hayward, but can still win big games such as this one.
Butler coach Brad Stevens is becoming of the best coaches in the county and will surely have a great game plan for this game.
Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack should both have a good game because of the way they find ways to score.
Howard has improve his three point shot this year, and Mack has to continue to attack the basket with no fear for Butler to advance.
In the long run, I think Butler's experience helps them here.
My prediction: Butler Bulldogs 70 Florida Gators 66
MVP: Matt Howard, because of how clutch he can be in big games. He won't put up a phenomenal stat line, but will get it done with 15 points and 10 rebounds while providing his usual stellar defense.
Arizona Wildcats Vs. Connecticut Huskies
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This could be the best game of the Elite 8, and maybe the most exciting, featuring two legendary programs and two superstars that can score whenever they feel like it.
Kemba Walker of the Connecticut Huskies might be the best player in the nation averaging just under 24 points per game. But it's not just how many points he scores that impresses, but how Walker does it. He can shoot from almost anywhere on the court, and he is also pure clutch in the final minutes of games.
But Walker isn't the only player who can score for the Huskies. Freshman Jeremy Lamb is a superstar in the making that can mop up Walker's mess if he leaves one. Lamb averages 10 points per game, but can score 20 in any game to help the Huskies if Walker happens to be having a poor game.
A player that will have to step up for the Huskies is big man Alex Oriahki. Oriahki will most likely be guarding Arizona's superstar Derrick Williams. Oriahki could have trouble because of how dangerous Williams is from anywhere on the court. Oriahki has to stay out of foul trouble for the Huskies to have a chance in this game.
Speaking of Derrick Williams, the Arizona Wildcats will need him to stay out of foul trouble. Williams is just coming off the performance of his career against the Duke Blue Devils where he scored 32 point and had 13 rebounds in the 'Cats upset win, and the question will be if he can repeat his performance.
A complete player, Williams didn't just do his work in the post against Duke. He had five three pointers and lots of second chance opportunities after missing his first shot.
Williams of course will have to have a big game for the Wildcats to win, but there are other players that will mean a lot for Arizona.
Point guard Momo Jones will also have to play another great game for Arizona to have a chance against the Huskies. Against Duke, Jones had no turnovers along with 16 points and six assists.
Other players that could step up for Arizona are Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg and Jordin Mayes. All these players can have a big game at any time.
The coaching match up for this game is also very intriguing pitting legendary coach Jim Calhoun against a new-comer coach who is exceeding expectations, Sean Miller.
With all the momentum after the big Duke win, I think Connecticut will have a tough time winning this game.
My prediction: Arizona Wildcats 82 Connecticut Huskies 79.
MVP: Derrick Williams, because of the monster game he had last time he knows what he has to do this game for the Wildcats to win and advance.