By the end of the day Sunday we will now be able to pencil the Final Four teams into our brackets which are most certainly shattered with four crucial games being played this weekend.
Now here’s a look at the four games scheduled for this weekend.
1 Gonzaga vs 11 Xavier (Saturday March 25th) – Gonzaga Win 83-59
The early game on Saturday will feature a first for one of these two teams. Either Gonzaga or Xavier will capture its first Final Four berth in school history with a victory. In an interesting bit of fate, the #1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs who have perennially been considered a Cinderella team are now facing the 2017 equivalent in the Xavier Musketeers. Xavier represent the #11 seed in the West division and have knocked off three consecutive elite teams ahead of their game on Saturday night. Xavier most recently disposed of a very quality Arizona team thanks in large part to the 25-point performance from star player Trevon Bluiett.
Gonzaga are led by point guard Nigel Williams-Goss who averaged just shy of 17 points per game for a Bulldogs team that finished the season an impressive 35-1, earning the eighth spot on the AP poll. They own arguably the best defense of the remaining teams in the tournament and held a very good West Virginia team to just 26.7 % shooting percentage from the floor.
One of the key matchups to watch for this game is the play of Gonzaga 7’, 300 lbs big man Przemek Karnowski who is a matchup nightmare as he can rebound, defend and possesses a very good post play for a college player.
This is going to be the toughest test yet for Cinderella Xavier with the Bet365 point spread set at an even 8 points.
Prediction: Gonzaga in a close one
1 Kansas Jayhawks vs 3 Oregon Ducks (Saturday March 25th) – Oregon Wins 74-60
The late game on Saturday features a showdown between two great programs and a couple of star players that will likely be playing ball in the NBA next season. Both Frank Mason III of Kansas and Dillon Brooks of Oregon are among the top players in NCAA Basketball and both have propelled their teams to this point in the tournament.
Mason III has averaged over 23 points per game so far this tournament and his Jayhawks have yet to face any real competition. The smallest margin of defeat for the Big-12 powerhouse was a 90-70 beat down of Michigan State in the second round.
Oregon have had a much more difficult path getting to the Elite Eight as they beat Michigan by a lone point last round and needed a dramatic come from behind victory over Rhode Island 75-72. Mississauga Ontario native Dillon Brooks will be the player to watch for Saturday as he’s looking to bounce back after a disappointing 12 point performance against Michigan last week.
The Jayhawks opened up as 7 point favourites as per Bet365 and it’s no surprise considering how their 83.9 point per game scoring average is among the top in NCAA standings.
If Oregon’s defense can’t clamp down early this game can get out of hand quickly.
Prediction: Kansas by 10 points
4 Florida Gators vs 7 South Carolina Gamecocks (Sunday March 26th) – Florida -3.5 @ Bet365 Canada
The early game on Sunday afternoon will see a couple of SEC rivals going toe to toe as South Carolina are set to face off against a Florida Gators team that needed a last second 3-pointer to earn their spot into the next round. Florida got a timely bucket from an unlikely shooter as Chris Chiozza sealed the game on the final play over a very good Wisconsin Badgers team on Friday night.
South Carolina on the other hand have been determined these last two games as they crushed the title hopes of the storied Duke Blue Devils 88-81 last round before laying a 20-point beating on #3 Baylor on Friday night behind a strong defensive performance and a 70-50 victory. The Gamecocks are lead offensively by Senior point guard Sindarius Thornwell and his team best 21.4 points per game. With the NBA draft next up for the 6’ 5” guard native of South Carolina, it’s no wonder he’s heightened his play even more by way of a near 26.0 points per game scoring average this tournament.
Sunday will mark the third and final meeting of the year for these two SEC giants and so far the season series is deadlocked at a game apiece with each team having successfully defended home court. Sunday afternoon the stakes are higher and they’re playing at a neutral site so the best team should win.
Prediction: Florida on a last second shot
1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs 2 Kentucky Wildcats (Sunday March 26th) North Carolina -2.5 @ Bet365 Canada
The old adage of saving the best for last really does hold true when looking at the final game of the weekend as two of the true Elite programs in the collegiate ranks will go head to head with a berth at another the Final Four up for grabs.
With 13 National titles between them both North Carolina and Kentucky came into this year’s tournament as favourites to add to an impressive school resume. Unfortunately for these teams they happened to slot into the same South division bracket meaning that a showdown of this magnitude would happen before the teams even hit the hardwood in Phoenix.
North Carolina coasted through its first three games thus far while Kentucky had the one hiccup (a 65-62 nailbiter) against Wichita State in the round of 32 before disposing of #3 UCLA by 11 points on Friday night, and more importantly shutting up the super annoying father of top five NBA pick Lonzo Ball.
Sunday will mark the second meeting of the year between these teams and if the first game was any indication, then we should be in for a special treat. The Kentucky Wildcats won an impressive 103-100 game over UNC back on December 17th. Wildcats star Freshman Malik Monk went off for a school best 47 points as his go ahead three pointer on the final possession sealed the deal over the Tar Heels.
An interesting storyline to watch for Sunday will be just how well the freshmen can play for Kentucky. The top two scorers for Kentucky are a couple of freshmen in Monk and De’Aaron Fox, who combine for 37 points per game. Conversely, the top two scorers for UNC are Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson who combine for just over 33 points per game and are both in their Junior seasons.
Will the pressure finally get to the high end offensive talent of Kentucky? Or will the first meeting of the year be any indication of Sunday’s result?
Prediction: Kentucky wins a close one