No. 8 NC State vs No. 4 Louisville
Lets start with NC State, who had the surprise of the tournament in beating the number one seed in the East region, Villanova. Now, NC State did not play a flawless game, but they never backed down and played well enough to win. Both Abdul Malik Abu and [Player:Lennard Freeman] had huge games for the Wolfpack. Both forwards were great in the paint and locked down the two bigs for Villanova. The Wolfpack as a whole played great defense frustrating the Wildcats the entire game. Villanova was terrible from three and the only player that had anything going was [player:Darrun Hillard II]. NC State didn’t actually seem very impressive in the regular season, but they seem to be peaking at the right time.
What more can be said about Louisville? Playing without maybe their best player, the Cardinals had a dominating performance against Northern Iowa and find themselves in the Sweet Sixteen. [player: Montrezl Harrell] had a really great game. Harrell had to play away from his accustomed spot in the paint, but still performed well. Harrell displayed his athleticism and his ability to switch while even having a couple of momentum swinging plays for the Cardinals. The player of the game for the Cardinals was clearly [player: Terry Rozier]. The guard had 25 points while shooting 8 for 13 from the field. Rozier also impacted the game in every way tallying five rebounds seven assists and a steal. It will be hard pressed for the Wolfpack to find a way to win if Rozier keeps playing like this. The guard never showed incredible passing ability during the season, but it doesn’t matter. The Cardinals chances look great if Rozier can continue to find his teammates.
This matchup happened already this season with NC State taking the win 74 to 65. [player: Anthony Barber] had an impressive game with 21 points. [player:Chris Jones] was also still playing for the Cardinals, he scored 20. The Wolfpack were able to out-rebound the Cardinals and avoid turnovers, the usual success story against Rick Pitino coached teams. [player: Trevor Lacy] is going to have to have a great game for the Wolfpack to win. Lacy played okay against Villanova, but he will have to avoid turnovers against the Cardinals. Harrell will have to be limited on the glass and NC State will also have to limit Rozier, two tasks that do not seem very easy. You know coach Pitino will come in with a new game plan to limit both Barber and Lacy. This should be a really interesting game and could even get a little bit chippy, Louisville will want to avenge their early season loss.
No. 7 Michigan St. vs No. 3 Oklahoma
Again, Tom Izzo is a wizard. The Spartan head coach has secured more final four appearances than first round exits. It just seems dumb to bet against the Spartans with their genius of a coach. Izzo knew how Virginia wanted to play, slowing down the game and playing great defense. The Spartans just beat the Cavaliers at their own game. Izzo had his entire team play tough and beat Virginia for the second year in a row. [player:Travis Trice] was massive out of the gate and quickly paced the Spartans to a 15-4 lead, forcing the Cavaliers to play out of their game. The senior finished with 23 points. [player:Brandon Dawson] also had a great game in the paint scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds while also chipping in four blocks. The Spartans have no time to celebrate as their next game comes against the highest seed remaining in the region, Oklahoma.
The Sooners had a pretty tough matchup against Dayton, but man does Oklahoma really know how to lock down on defense. The Sooners held the Flyers scoreless for nine minutes in the second, which just seems like a typo. Oklahoma played their usual game with their guards pouring in points at not an entirely efficient rate, but it did not matter. [player:TaShawn Thomas] and [player: Ryan Spangler] had huge games in the paint combining for 21 rebounds. Thomas also had 2 blocks. [player:Frank Booker] was an X-factor for the Sooners hitting four threes off the bench and providing that much needed spark.
This Sweet Sixteen game should really play out just like the Virginia vs. Michigan St. game. Both teams play great defense, but Oklahoma is certainly not afraid to push the pace. Seeing that the Spartans seem to score at a more efficient rate than the Sooners, look for Izzo to slow the game down. As troubling as it might seem, the refs will play a huge part in this game. If [player: Buddy Hield] and [player: Jordan Woodard] can get to the free throw line, it will help Oklahoma score more efficiently and win the game. Whichever team can play the best defense without fouling will win this game.
Final Four Prediction
Time and time again, the NCAA tournament shows the importance of great guard play and incredible coaching. This leaves two teams to really choose, Louisville and Michigan St. Right now, it just seems like the Spartans are playing the best basketball in the region. Izzo is on the top of his game right now and has smart guard in Trice to coach the Spartans on the court. One of Michigan State’s most important traits is their flexibility. The Spartans can play any style. They can slow it down and grind it out defensively or they can run the court and get buckets. Tom Izzo’s willingness to make in game adjustments will prove to be their trump card. Basketball games often come down to one simple adjustment, a team’s decision to switch on a pick and roll or deciding to pick up the pace at a certain point in the game. When given just two days to prepare for another team, and vice versa, Coach Izzo becomes even more dangerous. Expect Izzo to push the right buttons and reach the Final Four for the seventh time.