Last evening the Florida Gators put an end to the Dayton Flyers’ Cinderella run with a ten-point win while the Wisconsin Badgers beat the Arizona Wildcats in a thriller to advance to the Final Four. Today, we get a couple of somewhat unexpected match-ups as the surprising UConn Huskies; a seventh seed play forth seeded Michigan State. In the other regional final, the Kentucky Wildcats and all their youth go up against the Michigan Wolverines and their three-point shooting sensations.
UConn (+6) vs. Michigan State – There was a significant amount of talk that should Michigan State get past Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen that a trip to the Final Four would be a foregone conclusion. Perhaps it will, but standing in the way of that trip is a surging UConn Huskies team led by a dynamic senior scorer.
Shabazz Napier has put the Huskies on his back in much the same way Danny Manning did so many years ago in leading Kansas to a National Title. The difference of course is that Napier is a guard whereas Manning was more of a post, swingman type player.
What Napier and his teammates will face is one of the more aggressive and well-rounded teams they’ve faced all season in Michigan State. Head Coach Tom Izzo finally has a team as close to full health as he has had all season. The signs of this current NCAA Tournament run started in the Big Ten Tournament where the Spartans blitzed through the opponents en route to the conference tournament title.
Izzo is six out of seven in Elite Eight games and has also had every senior class under his tutelage reach at least one Final Four. This current group of seniors is the only exception. The Spartans rarely do things the easy way and I think that will be the case again today. I expect them to challenge Napier at both ends of the court and I believe inside-outside big man Adriean Payne will be the difference.
Take UConn to win getting the six points but I like Izzo and the Spartans to advance.
Kentucky (-2.5) vs. Michigan – It’s extremely hard to argue and go against what the Kentucky Wildcats have been able to do so far in this tournament. I really expected them to have a tournament similar to their regular season. I figured they’d get past their first round game and then put together a real stinker of a game and be out by the third (I call it the second) round.
That hasn’t been the case though as John Calipari has led his band of youthful exuberants to the Elite Eight. The road will become more difficult with Michigan the opponent but also because the Wildcats will more than likely be without Willie Caulie-Stein. The UK big man was in a walking boot yesterday after a severe ankle sprain in the first half of the team’s win over Louisville.
That will put more pressure on Julius Randle who so far has been able to carry the Wildcats with great play in the paint. The Wolverines have of course gone this season without their great big man Mitch McGary who has been following back surgery. That has left Michigan a bit thin down low but they have survived with smart defense and good rebounding when necessary.
John Bielein’s club has and will live and die with the three-point shot where they knock down shots at about 40% of those. Let’s be blount here; if Nik Stauskus gets good looks and his fellow three-point shooters do the same then I definitely like the Wolverines especially getting 2.5 points despite being a two-seed.