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Sweet Sixteen Preview: East

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 9:09am

It’s odd to hear this but following the past weekend of college basketball, one region almost was straight chalk. So, don’t worry, you won’t hate any of these teams for busting your bracket. And the quality of play should be the highest and most entertaining despite not having a Cinderella to root for. Jalen Brunson and Villanova have handled business with 20+ point victories in each game, also a feat that Jevon Carter and West Virginia have accomplished. While Purdue and Texas Tech are coming off three-point victories in the Round of 32. All four teams have the talent to advance to the Final Four with the safe pick being ‘Nova, but this tournament loves chaos so...

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 5 West Virginia

Mikal BridgesMikal BridgesWe can analyze this game by looking at two stats: Villanova is the best team in the country when it comes to taking care of the basketball. West Virginia is the best team in the country when it comes to turning over the basketball. You’re going to have to hear that story line over and over again this week, so I thought I would get it out of the way early. Have fun listening to analysts say, “But, something is going to have give, huh?”

This heavyweight battle features the two most complete college point guard’s left in the tournament. Jevon Carter and Jalen Brunson are superstars. Carter and Brunson have some history together having played on the same AAU team in Chicago. Carter won Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12, and Brunson has overtaken Trae Young as the favorite to win Player of the Year nationally. Carter is averaging 24.5 points per game, 6.5 assists per game, and 4.5 rebounds per game through the first two rounds. But, the most important statistic? He’s averaging 5.5 steals per game which is probably the only number Huggy Bear cares about. Brunson hasn’t performed to the level of Carter, but outside of Keenan Evans and Shai Gilgeous Alexander, no one has. March Madness is a guard driven tournament, and this could be the best point-guard matchup we see the rest of the way.

Keys to the Game:

Since I already made fun of the narrative of turning the ball over, almost the key to every game against West Virginia, I’m going to take a different route. The battle of the bigs down low between Villanova’s Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall and the Mountaineer’s Sagaba Kanote and Esa Ahmad will play a huge role in who advances to the Elite 8. Konate averages more than three blocks a game and is so aggressive and active down low he might drive Villanova’s big men into foul trouble.

Lucky for Villanova they have a lottery pick at the wing position that West Virginia will have no answer for. Mikal Bridges should exploit any matchup that Bob Huggins throws at him. West Virginia struggles guarding beyond the arc by giving up 37.5% shooting, where Bridges already has eight made treys on just 14 attempts. If Villanova doesn’t turn the ball over and starts hitting from deep, they could cruise to victory once again.

No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 3 Texas Tech

It’s funny how everybody immediately wrote off Purdue following the Isaac Haas elbow injury which has him sidelined for the rest of the tournament. Then Matt Painter inserted a 7’3 center in Matt Haarms as his replacement and now everybody is back on the bandwagon.

But, Keenan Evans and Texas Tech’s revamped defense has proved that they will give Purdue all they can handle. Purdue isn’t overly athletic, something the Red Raiders are so expect Evans to push the pace and dominate in transition as he has through the tourney. Evans is averaging 22.5 points per game on an absurd 58% shooting. Purdue’s Carsen Edwards will have his hands full on the defensive end.

These two teams play completely different styles of basketball. Purdue is second in the country in offensive efficiency, where Texas Tech ranks fourth in defensive efficiency. But, Texas Tech may have a slight advantage. Coach Chris Beard has coached against Purdue in the tournament before when he was walking the sidelines for Arkansas-Little Rock. As a No. 12 seed Beard knocked off Purdue 85-83 in double OT. Granted, the rosters are completely different, but Beard knocked off a Purdue team just two years ago with a lot less talent.

Keys to the Game:

Live by the three, die by three. Purdue ranks second in the nation in 3-point efficiency and with Haas being sidelined, they depend on their outside game that much more. Carsen Edwards has struggled through the first two games of the tournament while shooting just 8 of 29 from the field.

Also, Keenan Evans needs to make at least two three-pointers. The Red Raiders are 11-1 when he has done so, but Evans is only a 32.7-percent 3-point shooter. And keep an eye on turnovers. The Red Raiders force 14.9 turnovers a game which is good for 19th in the nation. Where Purdue excels at protecting the ball, specifically PJ Thompson who has yet to turn the ball over this tournament.

Final Four Prediction:

Villanova simply has too many pieces and just so many ways to beat a team that I believe they’ll get past West Virginia. But, I think the game will be close solely because Jevon Carter is playing out of his mind.

In the other matchup, I like Chris Beard to upset Purdue once again. I made fun of the rest of the country for writing Purdue off after the Haas injury, but I guess I’m doing that right now. Texas Tech has better athletes, and superior guard play so I like them to move on.

I picked Villanova to win the whole thing, so I have them moving on to the Final Four. Don’t take for granted the point-guard matchups this weekend. Carter, Evans, and Brunson are quite the trio.

Score: Villanova 78 Texas Tech 70

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