When looking at the Sweet Sixteen match-ups, there were several games pitting teams with very different styles. I believed that those odd pairings could lead to several surprising results. What we were left with after Friday night is two vastly different sides of the bracket. However, Saturday’s Elite Eight games are by far some of the most unexpected match-ups anyone could have expected.
9 Kansas State v 11 Loyola-Chicago
For the first time in NCAA history, a 9 seed will face off against an 11 seed. The South region bracket as a whole has been one of the most bizarre the tournament has ever seen. None of the top four seeds made it past the round of 32 leaving us with Kansas State and Loyola-Chicago playing for a shot at the Final Four.
9 Kansas State
Two nights ago Kansas State somehow found a way to defeat Kentucky. They did so with minimal output from 1st team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade. The Wildcats won the same way Thursday night as they have their previous two tournament games: on defense. Through three games, Kansas State has yet to allow more than 60 points in a game. However, to beat Kentucky, K State got hot from the perimeter. They knocked down 9 threes thanks to an offense that made an asserted effort to swing the ball in order to get better shots from outside. Kansas State’s defense is phenomenal and will lead to points off turnovers, but they must replicate that shooting prowess if they want a chance to win on Saturday. However, a major key to victory Saturday is the availability of star forward Dean Wade. Wade is Kansas State’s best player, and if he is able to play at a high-level Saturday, the Wildcats could potentially rise to a level not yet seen from them in this year’s tournament.
Similar to Kansas State, this game begins and ends on the defensive side of the ball for Loyola-Chicago. Their tough, timely defense has been the catalyst for the run they have made to the Elite Eight. Combine that stingy defense with a team that possesses several long-range shooters, and you have a dangerous team in March. In their game against Nevada, the Ramblers came out of the half making 13 consecutive field goals. Against a much better Kansas State defense, I expect a run like that to be near impossible. When playing the Wildcats, Loyola will have to be patient and willing to go inside to Missouri Valley freshman of the year, Cameron Krutwig. With forward Dean Wade limited physically I believe that Loyola can take advantage of Kansas State’s lack of interior depth. This is something Kentucky tried to do at times and were sent to the foul line repeatedly. However, UK’s big men couldn’t hit a free throw to save their lives so that eventually did them in. Whichever Cinderella advances from this game will be the team who scraps for every loose ball and doesn’t give an inch on defense. Whoever comes out on the other side will have definitely survived a dogfight.
3 Michigan v 9 Florida State
No, this isn’t the college football playoff. Prominent football powerhouses Michigan and Florida State are instead settling this meeting on the hardwood. With both teams coming off impressive wins, this should be an exciting meeting.
During the first and second round, Michigan’s offense was a bit of a mess. However, it appeared Jordan Poole’s heroic shot to send Michigan to the Sweet Sixteen was what they needed to kickstart their sputtering offense. Against a big and physical Texas A&M team, the Wolverines came out and obliterated their opponents by a score of 99-72. During that game, Michigan connected on an astounding 14 of 24 three-point attempts. The Wolverines’ perimeter shooting was the biggest question mark going into that game because of their lack of many true post players. However, the perimeter scoring stepped up in a major way. If Michigan hopes to continue their season into the Final Four, they will need another big shooting performance. Scoring inside against Florida State is a difficult task because of their multiple 7-foot centers and other large forwards. Michigan will also need to limit turnovers to a minimum because Florida State loves to pressure in hopes of forcing turnovers that lead to fast breaks.
9 Florida State
Florida State executed their game plan flawlessly against Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen. The Seminoles have several long, athletic guards who make life difficult for smaller ballhandlers on the perimeter. Those long-armed guards force tons of steals and run outs for easy buckets. Not to mention, Florida State very willingly will substitute at least ten players each game. Through three games it is that depth that has crippled each of their opponents. The bench has outscored the starters so far for Florida State in the tournament. In a tournament setting those fresh legs are even more important, so keep an eye on the bench points as this game gets into the second half. The other big factor will be Florida State’s three-point defense. Particularly after Michigan just caught fire in their previous game to the tune of 14 for 24 from 3. That was an aspect of the game they struggled with during the regular season. However, against Gonzaga, they held the Bulldogs to 5 of 20 from behind the three-point line.