2014 NCAA Tournament
Midwest Region - Elite Eight
How are the picks so far? 9-8 SU, 8-8-1 ATS
8 Kentucky (-2) vs. No. 2 Michigan
Kentucky might not be playing like the dominant No. 1 team everyone thought it would be coming into the season, but for a bunch of young one-and-doners, there was a whole bunch of maturity shown in brilliant wins over Wichita State and Louisville.
For all the disappointments throughout the season, and for all the talk about underachieving, the switch has been flipped, attacking the Cardinals on the boards – at least in the second half - owning the offensive glass in key situations, and getting gigantic performances out of Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson.
Back in November, everyone expected the Wildcats to be here, but few thought Michigan could regroup and reload this quickly and be even more explosive and impressive than it was in its grind to get to the 2013 national title game.
The Wolverines were way too loose late against Tennessee after dominating most of the way, and they had to hang on for dear life, but balanced scoring and good ball movement turned out to be enough to offset a slew of turnovers and mistakes. They hit their free throws, Tennessee didn't, and now they're one win away from their second straight Final Four.
Can Michigan handle Kentucky inside? The Cardinals shocked the Wildcats with their interior play in the first half of their classic, but Michigan should have a tougher time. UK is second in the nation in rebounding margin, and while they don't and can't hit the three, they kill teams on the offensive boards.
Can Kentucky handle Michigan outside? Louisville was pressured and struggled from three, but Michigan is amazing at finding the open man at getting the big shot, ranking fourth in the nation hitting 40% of their threes.
Fine, so who's going to win?: Michigan 82-78. The Wolverines are going to have a really, really hard time on the inside, but they'll run-and-gun a bit better, they'll answer twos with threes, and they'll move on after needing everything in the bag to put away the ultra-talented Wildcats who are coming together at just the right time.
No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Michigan (-2.5)
Tennessee probably shouldn't even be in the tournament based on the overall resume, but it got its shot, and now it's making the most of it after barely getting out of the First Four with an OT win over Iowa. UMass and Dayton were child's play, but now it's time to see just how good it really is.
Michigan has had one blip – the Big Ten championship against Michigan State – since mid-February, and now it's peaking at the perfect time in blowout wins over Wofford and Texas. Can this ultra-athletic team really keep on moving forward without some of last year's key stars? It's doing it.
The Wolverines got killed on the boards by Texas, and it didn't matter a lick thanks to the hot three-point shooting – nailing half of their 28 shots beyond the arc – and a nearly flawless game from the backcourt. Will that be enough against an athletic and active Tennessee team that outrebounded Mercer 41-19?
Fine, so who's going to win?: Michigan 78-73. Can the Wolverines handle getting killed on the boards again? They were able to handle Texas' length and athleticism, and they should be able to survive with a nearly-perfect game from the backcourt. Michigan will hit the threes that Tennessee can't, and it won't allow the one-and-dones off the boards that Mercer did.
FINAL SCORE: Michigan 73-71
No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Louisville (-4.5)
Be honest. You didn't really think this could be anything but this matchup after the brackets were announced.
It wasn't just that Kentucky knocked off No. 1 seed Wichita State, it's that it played really, really well, hitting clutch shots, getting active on the boards, and doing all the little things right on the way to the terrific 78-76 win. THIS is the team everyone has been waiting for, but now comes the real test. Was Wichita State just okay, or was that a really great win? Beating Louisville would validate everything.
The Cardinals overcame a sluggish first game against Manhattan to pound St. Louis, and now they need to come up with a replay of the 73-66 win over the Wildcats back in December. Can the confidence of the UofL veterans be enough to get past UK's talent? The Wildcats make up for several problems elsewhere by getting on the boards and with a tough interior, but the Cardinals don't make mistakes and will hardly have a problem with contact.
Fine, so who's going to win?: Louisville 78-72. The Wildcats might be more active, and they might have the skill and ability to use the Wichita State momentum to continue to play up to their talent level, but they aren't going to force any mistakes and the Cardinal backcourt will be unflappable. Kentucky will turn the ball over, Louisville won't.
FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 74-69
No. 1 Wichita State (-4.5) vs. No. 8 Kentucky
- Who's Got Next? Video Preview of Wichita State vs. Kentucky
Yippee. Wichita State has to play a college basketball team that's not incredibly mediocre.
Yeah, the Shockers might be in the Region of Death with Louisville, Michigan and Duke – rest in peace – but this is the matchup everyone was sort of waiting for. It's the preseason No. 1 against the team that actually does have the 0 in the loss column. It's the overachievers vs. the disappointments.
It's the regular season vs. the post-season.
If Kentucky wins this, then that's it – the regular season no longer matters. Wichita State did everything right and ripped through every game, and it won't mean a fat load of jack squat if it can't even get out of the first weekend alive.
The Shockers are making up for lost time getting the Wildcats, even getting a nice break by playing an abysmal Cal Poly team that got into the tournament with a losing record. Yeah, everything worked, the deep bench got lots of playing time, and the first game was a layup – literally. There wasn't any problem getting to the basket, and the defense clamped down allowing the Mustangs to connect on just 5-of-28 three pointers while hitting 21% from the field. Kentucky's not a whole heck of a lot better from the outside.
The Wildcats can't shoot, but they hit the boards really, really hard against Kansas State, and that was enough. Julius Randle looked the part, especially on the offensive glass getting 12 of his 15 rebounds on UK's side of the floor. The defensive pressure was cranked up, and the result was an easy win.
Prediction: Kentucky 67-64. Wichita State will come out gunning as it looks to show the world what it can do, and then reality, and Randle, will set in. It'll be painful to watch the Wildcats put the game away, but they'll do it with one key defensive stop.
FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 78-76
No. 11 Tennessee (-8) vs. No. 14 Mercer
- Who's Got Next? Video Preview of Tennessee vs. Mercer
Finally, it's the Tennessee-Mercer matchup everyone has expected for months.
Both not only scored wins in the second round over higher-seeded opponents, but they pretty much dominated their opponents along the way – neither win appeared to be a fluke.
Tennessee took care of business vs. Massachusetts, scoring an 86-67 win Friday afternoon behind 26 points and 14 rebounds from forward Jarnell Stokes. Jordan McRae added 21 points and was a leader on the floor to keep things rolling after starting out in the First Four. Mercer, meanwhile, only beat its opponent by seven points, but that 78-71 victory was the talk of the tournament so far. The Bears played with poise, shot the lights out by draining 55.6 percent of its field-goal attempts, and used defensive pressure to rattle Duke.
Mercer won't exactly quiver with fear vs. the Volunteers. The Bears love to push the tempo and turn to guard Langston Hall and Daniel Coursey to do the bulk of the scoring, but forward Jakob Gollon brings balance to the floor and plays with a swagger. That trio combined to score 43 points in an NIT win over Tennessee a season ago and will attack the Vols at every opportunity.
Tennessee won't exactly be looking for revenge for last year, but the Volunteers also won't take Mercer lightly. Stokes is a man among boys inside whose focus is getting opposing bigs into foul trouble. McRae is a creative scorer who can match Mercer's toughness and is a strong defender. Both teams are deep and put a lot of bodies on the floor to keep legs fresh, so expect this to be one of the best battles of the day.
Prediction: Tennessee 80-70. Mercer might be air-tight and it might be experienced enough to keep moving on, but Tennessee won't pull a Duke – it'll take it hard to the bucket and will be strong inside. It'll be a nip-and-tuck fight before the Vols pull away late.
FINAL SCORE: Tennessee 83-63
No. 4 Louisville (-9.5) vs. No. 5 Saint Louis
Who's Got Next? Video Preview of Louisville vs. St. Louis
Both Louisville and Saint Louis will be happy just to be playing college basketball on Saturday.
The Cardinals – Manhattan - and Billikens – NC State - each found themselves needing to survive in the final moments of their respective games Thursday night, but they each managed to pull through by showing grit and leaning on their leaders to make plays down the stretch. Now that both can breathe a sigh of relief, which teams will show up in Orlando?
Louisville is frantic on defense, driving teams crazy with its pressure that relies on athleticism to create a lot of turnovers and plenty of transition opportunities. Meanwhile, Saint Louis is all about defense, as well, but head coach Jim Crews' style looks to grind teams down in the halfcourt game, giving up just 61.8 points a game. The Billikins have done a good job controlling the glass, but they haven't faced a squad with Louisville's talent.
The biggest challenge for Saint Louis guards Jordair Jett and Mike McCall, Jr. will be to control the Cardinals' duo of Russ Smith and Chris Jones. Smith loves the spotlight, and his quickness will put any defender on his heels. He's fast, he's crafty on the defensive end and has ice water in his veins when the game is on the line. Jones has the same kind of quickness, but it is his passing and vision that makes him tough to contain. On the other side, Jett has been battling some aches and pains, and if he isn't 100 percent, Louisville will get a huge boost.
Up front, Louisville's Montrezl Harrell is a man among boys – even if he can't hit free throws. His battle inside with Saint Louis' Rob Loe will be critical. If Loe can get Harrell in foul trouble early, the Cardinals could struggle thanks to their lack of depth in the paint. Saint Louis has to control the tempo and turn this game into a slugfest to have a shot at winning.
Prediction: Louisville 75-64. The Cardinals got it out of their system. Manhattan knew how to push all the buttons and pitched a near-perfect game to make it close, but Saint Louis won't have the same formula.
FINAL SCORE: Louisville 66-51
No. 2 Michigan (-5) vs. No. 7 Texas
Who's Got Next? Video Preview
of Michigan vs. Texas
Is it possible for Texas to come up with the same magic two games in a row?
A missed putback helped the Longhorns survive an Arizona State team that started to play again after dying down the stretch of the Pac-12 season, but now they need to use more of their interior presence to get by a fast and skilled Michigan squad.
The regular season Big Ten champions had no problems whatsoever getting over the Michigan State Big Ten Tournament hangover as the destroyed Wofford in an easy route. The Wolverines held the Terriers to just 1-of-19 from three and almost never put them on the line. It would've and could've been far worse had they decided to play in the second half, but the big concern going forward might be rebounding – Wofford exposed that a bit.
Michigan has just about everything it needs to make a deep run as long as it's not getting lit up inside. That's where the length and size of Texas comes in, and while the rebounding was mediocre in the win over ASU, there should be several defensive rebounds despite the activity coming from the Michigan backcourt. But is the Longhorn offense in place to keep up the pace?
It's easy to forget now, but Michigan doesn't do squat in last season's run to the national title game without a miracle from Trey Burke and solid play inside from Mitch McGary. It's going to take a big early run and catch-up from the Longhorns to survive. If this turns into a grinder, it'll be Hail Fail for the Maize and Blue.
Prediction: Texas 68-65 – but with a caveat. If Michigan holds a decent lead going into halftime, forget about it and go do something more worthwhile. However, the Texas defense will do its job on both ends of the court, and while Arizona State is a far lesser Michigan, there should be even more on the boards and inside. The Wolverines don't have an answer for Texas center Cameron Ridley.
FINAL SCORE: Michigan 79-65
No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 16 Cal Poly
Wichita State -16
Why To Pick
Cal Poly: The Mustangs came up with their hottest game of the season at just the
right time to get through and into the field of 64. Can they keep up the pace
and find a second straight big performance against the Wichita State
defense? Cal Poly can play some D, too, as Texas Southern found out.
Why To Pick
Wichita State: The Shockers could be able to hit the boards hard and keep the
mediocre Cal Poly offense from generating too many second chance points. This
might not be a Wichita State team full of offensive firepower, but the interior
presence should be enough to get by without a problem.
Wichita State 80-58. Cal Poly might be coming into the game on a roll, but the
fun ends now. And big.
FINAL SCORE:Wichita State 64-37
No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Kentucky -5
Why To Pick Kansas State: Which Kentucky is going to show up? Extremely sloppy at times, the Wildcats can't shoot, they don't move the ball, and they go through puzzling lapses on both ends of the court. Kansas State might not be the 1996 Chicago Bulls, but it's a sound team that doesn't screw up.
Why To Pick Kentucky: Which Kentucky is going to show up? Kansas State closed out with three straight clunker losses, while Kentucky has finally decided that it's time to start playing. When UK rams up its defense, the lackluster KSU perimeter game will go dead cold.
The Pick: Kentucky 74-67. There's a dogmeat performance coming somewhere in this tournament from John Calipari's bunch, but it's not going to be in the opener.
FINAL SCORE: Kentuckyy 56-49
No. 5 St. Louis vs. No. 12 NC State
Line: St. Louis -2.5
Why To Pick
St. Louis: The Billikin defense has the ability and potential to keep T.J.
Warren under wraps. Forgetting how the Wolfpack got through the first round game
against Xavier, in general, they're not great on the boards and they don't force
mistakes. St. Louis will come up with the turnovers that State won't.
Why To Pick NC State: St. Louis doesn't shoot well, and it's coming into the
tournament limping. If Warren can get hot right away and get up early, the
Billikins don't have the ability and skills to make a big run to come back. The
firepower isn't there.
NC State 68-63. Warren, Warren, Warren. There's no one hotter, and he'll be the
standout against an offensively challenged St. Louis team.
FINAL SCORE: St. Louis 83-80 OT
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Louisville -16.5
Why To Pick Manhattan: The Jaspers have the type of offense and running ability to keep things moving while also making things happen in the interior. Among the nation's leaders in blocked shots and steals, the defense is disruptive enough to throw off a rock-solid and unflappable Louisville backcourt.Get the Cardinals on the line late and Manhattan has a chance.
Why To Pick Louisville: Manhattan might be disruptive defensively, but it's also too careless with the ball and makes too many mistakes. Also lousy on the free throw line, there will be too many free points given away, and it'll be tough to keep up the scoring pace. Louisville has too much scoring pop – Manhattan would be better against a sluggish, half-court team.
The Pick: Louisville 88-67. Manhattan will keep up for about 15 minutes, and then the spurt will come. The unflappable Louisville backcourt won't make the mistakes the Jaspers need.
FINAL SCORE: Louisville 71-64
No. 6 UMass vs. No. 11 Tennessee
Line: Tennessee -4
Why To Pick
Tennessee: Just when it seemed like the Vols weren't going to show up for the
tournament, they were able to fight their way back against Iowa to pull out a
thrilling overtime victory. Can the ability to hit the boards hard, and can the
defense that got the job done in the second half be enough against a good UMass
O that moves the ball around well?
Why To Pick
UMass: The interior presence might be enough to altre enough shots and plays to
get through. This is a good-balanced team that finds scoring pop where needed,
and Cade Lalanne's size inside could be the difference to keep the Vols from
going on big runs. They might have too much scoring pop.
Tennessee 78-71. Tennessee will give UMass a good fight, but the Minutemen will
make the shots Iowa couldn't.
FINAL SCORE: Tennessee 86-67
No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Mercer
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Duke -14
Why To Pick Mercer: Can the Bears give Duke a battle? They can score, they love to get the three up and rolling, and the move the ball around well and can hit the boards. They might not have any talent, but they're a good team that does a little of everything right. If Duke isn't bringing it's A game, it could get tagged.
Why To Pick Duke: Mercer just has no answer for Jabari Parker. There's no interior defense against the strong presences like Duke has, and it could be a rough day on the boards if all the Blue Devils are active. The Bears might have enough to hang around, but once they collapse in to to stop Parker, the threes will come.
The Pick: Duke 82-71. Mercer will provide more of a battle than Duke might like, and it'll fight until the end, but there won't be any drama. The Blue Devils will get up early and stay there.
FINAL SCORE: Mercer 78-71
No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Arizona State
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Texas -2
Why To Pick Arizona State: When the Sun Devils have their focus, and they decide to play, they could be an interesting sleeper with great three point shooting ability and a nice interior precense defensively. Texas doesn't force enough turnovers and doesn't pressure the backcourt enough – ASU should be able to score without a problem, while the Longhorns don't have the outside ability to bomb their way into the game.
Why To Pick Texas: Great on the boards, Texas is tremendous at coming up with one-and-dones defensively. ASU might block shots, but it's not tough enough on the glass and not disruptive enough in the backcourt. Yeah, ASU can alter shots, but the long Longhorns are better at it.
The Pick: Arizona State 77-73. Does Texas have enough offensive pop? It doesn't create points off of turnovers and there's nothing coming from three. The Sun Devils will hit a few late threes to get back in the game, and missed Texas free throws will be costly.
FINAL SCORE: Texas 87-85
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Wofford
- 60-Second Video Analysis On Each Team
Line: Michigan -16
Why To Pick Wofford: The Terriers are just good enough from three and just tough enough defensively to keep this from being an ugly blowout. The athleticism isn't there, but they're active on the boards and they don't make a slew of big mistakes – they won't give the Wolverines many easy baskets.
Why To Pick Michigan: The Wolverines will have problems at some point against someone with a tough interior, but that's not Wofford. The Terriers don't block shots – ever – and there won't be any problems getting to the basket. Awful on the free throw line, Wofford will give away at least five points they can't afford to lose.
The Pick: Michigan 83-63. Michigan will dominate from start to finish with a good early run.
FINAL SCORE: Michigan 57-40
No. 11 Iowa vs. No. 11 Tennessee
Line: Tennessee -2
Why To Pick Iowa: The Hawkeyes have the ability to keep Tennessee off the boards. The Vols don't do much from the outside and have to live off of second chance points, but they might not get too many chances against the ninth-best rebounding team in the nation. Iowa moves the ball far, far better than Tennessee and should get more open chances.
Why To Pick Tennessee: Iowa appeared to have played its way out of the tournament after losing six of its final seven games – and it's not like all the misery came against the Big Ten's killers. The Hawkeyes can score, but they've gone dead-cold lately. Iowa is great on the boards, but Tennessee is better.
The Pick: Iowa 77-75. The Hawkeyes might be playing like dog meat, but they make fewer mistakes than Tennessee and are better on the free throw line – that will be the difference in a tight game.
FINAL SCORE: Tennessee 78-65 OT
No. 12 NC State vs. No. 12 Xavier
Line: Xavier -1.5
Why To Pick NC State: The Wolfpack are playing just well enough to come up with one more good performance. Xavier doesn't do enough on defense to stop T.J. Warren if he gets hot – he could take over and be the difference by himself. There isn't enough interior presence from the Musketeers, and there aren't enough forced mistakes coming from the backcourt.
Why To Pick Xavier: Can State do anything if Warren isn't going ballistic? Even if he's hot, can anyone else help the cause? NC State is miserable from three and does next to nothing to force mistakes. As long as Xavier owns the boards – and it should be able to – everything will be okay.
The Pick: Xavier 78-70. Warren will get his, but the rest of the Wolfpack can't hit the glass well enough to avoid the second chance points the Musketeers will generate.
FINAL SCORE: NC State 74-59
No. 16 Cal Poly vs. No. 16 Texas Southern
Line: Cal Poly -3
Why To Pick Cal Poly: Does defense win championships? Texas Southern can score, but it can't defend, and it's not even that great an offensive machine. The Mustangs might have a losing record, but they force a ton of turnovers and they capitalize. On a bit of a roll winning the Big West title, they've come through in the clutch.
Why To Pick Texas Southern: Getting Cal Poly to score sometimes is like pulling teeth. It's a horrible shooting team that can't do much of anything if it's not getting anything from ten feet out. Texas Southern is far, far better on the boards and has more firepower.
The Pick: Texas Southern 68-64. The Tigers will get bogged down at times, but they're ability to hit the glass, along with a few timely three pointers, should be just enough to get past the offensively challenged Mustangs.
FINAL SCORE: Cal Poly 81-69