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What a long strange trip it’s been: The Elite Eight

Jerry Garcia must have been talking about the NCAA Tournament when he penned those words for the Grateful Dead. He also probably didn’t have Kansas State or Loyola-Chicago in his Elite Eight. Either way, it has been a crazy ride so far. We have seen the following:

  • The first ever 16 over 1 upset (UMBC over Virginia)
  • The first-ever matchup between a 9 and 11 seed in the tournament
  • The first time that a seed higher than 8 is GUARANTEED to make the Final Four
  • The largest margin of victories for 13 over 4 seeds

Along with the wild South region, there are some favorites who are supposed to be here (Villanova, Duke, Kansas). There are also some upstart teams that didn’t receive much attention going in (Florida State, Texas Tech). The great thing about this tournament is anything can happen. We have seen some strange things in the past, and this year is no different.  If anything, it has been more fun to embrace the madness. We have plenty of good matchups over the next two days.

Loyola-Chicago vs. Kansas State

How they got here:

Well, no one saw this Elite Eight matchup coming.  As I have mentioned before, this is the first-ever matchup between a 9 seed and an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Loyola-Chicago has been the darling of the tournament, using Sister Jean (a 98-year-old nun) as their good luck charm. Kansas State meanwhile has snuck into the position their in, upsetting Kentucky in the Sweet 16 and beating Cinderella UMBC.

The number one overall seed Virginia was knocked off by 16 seed UMBC, so the favorite of the tournament was gone before the second weekend even started. While Kansas State had a relatively easy road to the Elite Eight considering they could have played Virginia, Loyola-Chicago has won three games by a combined 4 points. Two late shots over Miami and Tennessee and a hard-fought win over Nevada puts them in the prime position of becoming 2018’s version of George Mason.

Prediction:

K-State is led by guard Barry Brown, while Loyola-Chicago is led by guard Clayton Custer. Both are capable of taking over a game, but the Ramblers have had a lot of trouble at the free throw line.

This looks to be a very low scoring game as both teams are very good on the defensive end. Kansas State shut down a potent but young Kentucky lineup, and Loyola-Chicago has kept all their opponents under 70 points. This game may be determined by divine intervention. Look for the Ramblers to be marching right to the Final Four.

Michigan vs. Florida State

How they got here:

Michigan was actually my pick to win the entire tournament. They were hot coming in as they went on a torrid streak, winning the Big Ten championship with ease. They had their way with Montana, escaped on a buzzer beater against Houston, and handled Texas A &M with class.

Florida State meanwhile had their hands full in the first round with Michael Porter and Mizzou. They later went on to upset one seeded Xavier and then number four Gonzaga. They are the most overlooked Cinderella and barely even made the tournament.

Prediction:

John Beilein’s squad has been in this position before, coming up clutch in the Big Ten tournament. They are loaded with grizzled vets (for college standards) and they have a potent offense. Meanwhile, Florida State has a grind-it-out approach to things.

The Seminoles are not the most dynamic team in the tourney but they know how to score when they need to and frustrate teams with their excellent perimeter defense. Michigan can shoot the three so look for a good battle behind the arc. I cannot see Michigan losing as I just don’t think FSU has enough offense to keep up.

Villanova vs. Texas Tech

How they got here:

The local team, Villanova, has been one of the favorites to win the tournament. They have somewhat skated through the tournament, taking care of Radford and Alabama. They struggled with the full court press of West Virginia but found a way and moved on to the Elite Eight.

Texas Tech had a similar road, beating an inferior Stephen F. Austin, surprising a good Florida team (even though they were the higher seed) and beating an Isaac Haas-less Purdue team. If you were to tell me Texas Tech would make the Elite Eight, I would have laughed in your face.

Prediction:

The Red Raiders are probably the most unknown team left in this tournament. While most of the coverage has been on the Cinderellas and the favorites of this NCAA tournament, Texas Tech has slowly gone about their business and found themselves a game away from the Final Four.

Villanova is uber-talented, led by the upperclassman star Jalen Brunson. Look for him to have a big game, and look for Villanova to have their way with Texas Tech. This could be a tight game, but Villanova has far more firepower in their arsenal.  They will get the win.

Duke vs. Kansas

How they got here:

This is the matchup the masses have been waiting for.  After Arizona lost to Buffalo, this was to be the marquee game of the tournament.  It is a collision course between two of the best coaches in college basketball. Kansas has had an easy road beating Penn, pulling away from Seton Hall late and out-muscling Clemson.

Duke on paper had a much tougher road, defeating a pesky Iona team, winning convincingly against a good Rhode Island team and surviving against a Syracuse team that somehow made the tournament and went on a run to the Sweet 16.

Prediction:

Grayson Allen, Grayson Allen, Grayson Allen.  Devonte’ Graham may be the best player in this game, but the most hated player since Christian Laettner will put the Blue Devils in the Final Four.  There’s just something about this team I hate and love simultaneously.

It may be Coach K’s success in the Elite Eight or Kansas’ many failures, but I cannot see any way that Duke loses this game.  They have a more seasoned coach who knows how to win games in big moments, a veteran-laden team with clutch shooters, and a Kansas team who had always underperformed when the lights were brightest.  San Antonio, meet Grayson Allen.

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