Syracuse Orangemen (#1 Seed) vs. Butler Bulldogs (#5 Seed)

Thoughts:  This game should and likely will be decided on the defensive end of the court.  The Orangemen will bring their stout 2-3 zone defense that most teams outside of the Big East rarely ever see and will be the case for Butler.  The Bulldogs play an aggressive, up in your face man defense that is predicated on forcing bad shots and causing turnovers.  Butler will look to force the Orange into their half court sets in an attempt to keep this a low scoring game.  If Syracuse is able to make this a run and gun game where they can use their superior speed and athleticism, it will get out of hand quickly.  Syracuse will be playing their third consecutive game without their center, Arinze Onuaku who injured his left leg in a Big East Tournament loss to the Georgetown Hoyas.  The Orangemen have in my opinion been playing better without their big man as it suits their fast pace, up-tempo transition game.

Difference Makers:  We all know that the Orangemen’s future NBA first rounder, Wesley Johnson is a shining star and clear difference maker, but I feel the Orangemen have a real advantage on the inside with Rick Jackson.  If the big man can stay out of foul trouble, he can cause real problems for an undersized Butler squad whose tallest player is 6-foot-8 inch Matt Howard. For Butler’s difference maker, most fans might be thinking leading scorer, Gordon Hayward; but it is actually the emerging star, Shelvin Mack.  Mack has been playing lights out in this NCAA tournament and has carried the load down the stretch averaging 18 points a game.  What has been more impressive than just the scoring numbers is his willingness to take and make the big shots.  He will undoubtedly have to take and hit those big shots if the Bulldogs want any chance of pulling off the upset.

Prediction:  Nations longest winning streak comes to an end at the hands of Syracuse who wins by 12 

 

Washington Huskies (#11 Seed) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (#2 Seed)

Thoughts: Can West Virginia overcome the loss of their second best player and floor general, Truck Bryant?  If they want any chance of moving on to the Elite Eight, they will need Trucks back up, Joe Mazzulla to slow down the game and set up their half court offense.  The Huskies will clearly be looking to turn this game into a track meet, something that clearly doesn’t suit the Mountaineers game.  West Virginia prides itself on defensive tenacity and will want to keep the game in the mid 50’s.  The Huskies who are arguably the longest and most athletic team left in the tournament next to Kentucky plays little to no defense and will want to keep the scoreboard constantly moving.  It will be fascinating to see which of these two contrasting styles will hold up in crunch time.

Difference Makers: West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler is clearly the reason West Virginia will be favored to win this game and don’t think the Huskies aren’t well aware of his ability to single handily dominate or win a game. With that being said, Butler will be continually pressured throughout the game and will see constant double teams forcing his teammates to take and make big shots.  Thus the difference makers for West Virginia will have to be their role players: Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones.  If these guys fail to produce more than the bare minimum offensively; Washington will cruise to an easy victory.  As for Huskie nation, it’s no surprise that the hopes and dreams of an Elite Eight birth ride on the shoulders of their guards Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas who are flat out scorers and who can score in bunches.  These two athletes, well lets say aren’t shy about shooting the ball.  Pondexter and Thomas make up one of the most dynamic back courts left in the tournament and Washington will undoubtedly continue to ride these horses to the finish line.

Prediction: In an upset, Washington wins by a buzzer beater giving West Virginia a taste of their own medicine 

 

Xavier Musketeers (#6 Seed) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (#2 Seed)

Thoughts: In the two teams’ first match-up earlier on this season, the Wildcats absolutely spanked Xavier by a score of 71-56 partly thanks to the fact that the Musketeers couldn’t have hit water if they were dropped out of a boat.  Remember the Battle of Bighorn?  Well this is the Battle of Big Men!  Both teams have a stockpile of large, lengthy and athletic big men at their disposal.  Despite this influx of forwards and centers, both teams struggle to score in the low post and whose ever big men decide to show up in this game very well might determine the outcome.  We now all know about Jordan Crawford after the infamous dunk this past summer over Lebron James.  However, all questions about whether this kid could actually play have been laid to rest after averaging 20 points a game during the regular season and 27.5 a game during March Madness.  Done deal? No, Kansas State has two of their own sharp shooters in Jacob Pullen and Dennis Clemente.  As these two go so do the Kansas State Wildcats.

Difference Makers:  As is evident from my initial thoughts, Xavier’s chances lie on the shoulders of Jordan Crawford and his scoring and play making ability.  If Frank Martins white on rice defense stifles Crawford, then so shall the chances of the X-men to move on.  Kansas States difference maker then has to be team defense.  Frank Martin was groomed from mentors Bobby Knight and Bob Huggins whose philosophy is 100% defense 100% of the time.  However, the Wildcats have been highly inconsistent on that end of the court.  Will the Kansas State defense pull a Doctor Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?  Their tourney lives depend on it!

Prediction:  Kansas State wins thanks to a monster game from Dennis Clemente 

 

Kentucky Wildcats (#1 Seed) vs. Cornell Bears (#12 Seed)

Thoughts:  It’s already being tagged as a David vs. Goliath match-up, but Cornell has a whole lot of David’s who can shoot the rock not just one.  However, overall anyone who follows basketball knows that Cornell is as dangerous a team as there is in this tourney.  Cornell may have the best 3-point shooting club that March Madness has ever witnessed, but Kentucky’s defense is holding opponents to 18% a game from beyond the arch, what gives?  Shooting does!  When you live by the sword, you die by the sword.  With Cornell possessing 8 seniors and Kentucky having more freshman than any other team many feel that the inexperienced Wildcats will fall to the crafty veterans.  I’ll let everyone in on a little secret and that is at the end of the day talent and athleticism wins games and let’s be honest, Kentucky has drastically more talent and athleticism than Cornell does.  Cornell simply can’t keep up with the speed and scoring ability of John Wall and Eric Bledsoe.  Cornell may have a 7-footer in Jeff Foote, but he can’t neutralize DeMarcus Cousins who has been giving opposing centers and forwards fits all year.  However, with all the props I have given Kentucky they do possess one potential giant pitfall; that being jump shooting.  Kentucky all season has struggled to be consistent when it comes to shooting jump shots.  If the Wildcats perimeter game isn’t up to snuff, Kentucky could very well fall to the hands of the tourneys most academically fit team.

Difference Makers:  John Wall vs. Ryan Wittman.  Can the #1 pick in this years NBA draft out dual the experienced sharp shooter from Cornell?  John Wall has been sensational all year, but when the lights are shinning brightest will Walls youth be exposed?  I highly doubt it.  Kentucky will rely heavily as usual on the scoring and play making ability of John Wall to open up holes for big man DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. Ryan Wittman on the other hand possesses a 3 point shot that is second to none in the NCAA.  When Cornell looks for a big bucket you know the ball will be in his hands and if they want any shot of doing what the biblical David did, he will need to continue his hot shooting.

Prediction:  Kentucky wins big! Like really really big!  Cornell’s shooting fails them in the biggest game in the schools history.

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