#1 Kansas vs. #4 Purdue
Contrasting styles would be an understatement when discussing the Midwest’s top seed, Kansas Jayhawks, and the 4th seeded Purdue Boilermakers. The Hawks boast an outstanding backcourt, while the Boilermakers do a great deal of their damage down on the block.
KU has looked impressive early on as they dismantled UC-Davis in the first round. After taking the Aggie’s best shot out of the gate, Frank Mason III and company blew this game open and didn’t look back. Tom Izzo’s Spartans were the next team to play the Jayhawks, and this time Josh Jackson stepped up and took the reigns in route to a twenty point victory. Kansas is averaging a whopping 90 points per game in the tournament, and Jackson and Mason are dropping 20 and 21 points per contest, respectively. More importantly, they’ve outrebounded their opponents handily in each game, which will be a trend they need to continue against Purdue.
The Boilermakers drew a formidable Vermont team in the first round, and edged them out in a 80-70 game. Vince Edwards, who’s really stepped up his game this March, paced them with 21 points on 10-16 shooting. They then drew the Cyclones of Iowa State in the second round, and their All-American, Caleb Swanigan, dropped a dominant performance of 20 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Ball movement was key for Purdue as they dished out 27 assists on 31 made shots.
Key to the Game
I feel rebounding will be the key to this Sweet Sixteen matchup. The run and gun Jayhawks averaging 90 points per game have still found a way to edge their opponents on the glass, and if they can do the same to Purdue then I wouldn’t expect a different result than their first two games. If Purdue can own the glass, especially offensively, then things get interesting. Of Kansas’ four losses, they were out hustled on the glass in three of them. Biggie Swanigan and company have the size and girth to make them a real threat to do the same.
#7 Michigan vs. #3 Oregon
A team hit by injuries, and another squad on an improbable Sweet Sixteen run matchup Thursday as Michigan squares off against Oregon. Despite the loss of Chris Boucher, the Ducks’ have persevered, while the Wolverines played the spoiler to Rick Pitino’s 2017 season.
The Ducks came out of the gate firing and hung 90 points on Iona, en route to a 13 point victory. Four players had 16 points or more, paced by Tyler Dorsey’s 24 point performance. Dorsey spearheaded the Ducks’ second round effort as well, as he scored 27 points against a surging Rhode Island team. A big second round effort was needed as the Rams jumped out to a halftime lead, but Oregon’s talent level is still apparent even without the help of their top shot blocker. Jordan Bell has done an admirable job on the glass averaging 12 boards per game during the tourney, and Dillon Brooks has also bolstered his scoring this March.
Still rolling from a Big 10 title, Michigan’s offense proved good enough to fend off another offensive beast in Oklahoma State. In a 92-91 shootout, the Wolverines shot a scorching 55% clip from beyond the arc. Against a more athletic, and better defensive squad in Louisville, Mortiz Wagner played the hero for Michigan and dropped 26 points on 11-14 shots from the field. Derrick Walton Jr. has done a wonderful job of distributing the ball to the tune of 8.5 assists per game, while only turning the ball over 1.5 times per game. When watching the Wolverines now, it’s hard to believe they’re the same squad that finished 10-8 in the Big 10 during the conference season.
Key to the Game
Oregon’s defense is going to be the key to this contest. Despite the Wolverine’s high powered offense, their defense isn’t exactly the type that can stop a team in it’s tracks. The Ducks can’t get into a track meet with the Wolverines, or they can expect to get out sprinted. On the other hand, even without Boucher swatting misses, the Ducks have talent, and have the better defense. If they can slow the game down, and resist the urge to try to keep pace with Michigan, they could be the ones advancing to the Elite Eight.