The South Region is the home to the one remaining Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament. This is the first time in history that all the 1, 2 and 3 seeds have made the Sweet 16, and it’s only right that we have a 12-seed hanging around with them. Anybody who watches March Madness for the sake of the underdog will be watching this region as it is their last hope.
#1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon
With many eyes on the Cavaliers opening round matchup with Gardner-Webb, Virginia fans started seeing flashbacks. They allowed Gardner-Webb to enter halftime with the lead and as Yogi Berra said, “It was Déjà vu all over again.” Virginia was in jeopardy of becoming the only #1 seed to lose to a #16 and they were about to do it two years in a row.
Then, the second half started and Tony Bennett’s team promptly ran away with the game cruising to what ended up being an easy win. Next, they met an Oklahoma team who had just posted 95 points in the opening round, and held that same team to just 51 points in another easy win.
Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and DeAndre Hunter are the team’s workhorses on the offensive end of the court, creating the scoring for the plays on which they do not score themselves. But Mamadi Diakite has been emerging as a reliable offensive weapon in the tournament, scoring 17 and 14 points in their two games after averaging just 7 points per game throughout the season.
You also can’t talk Virginia basketball without mentioning their defense. In almost all aspects of defense the Cavaliers find themselves atop the charts in almost every metric. This team forces turnovers, limits transition buckets and makes you work for a good shot on every possession of the game. A rare breed of basketball in today’s day and age, but an effective one for sure.
The lone Cinderella remaining in the bracket. The Oregon Ducks have continued their hot streak from the PAC-12 Tournament straight into the Big Dance. They opened with 72-54 win over Wisconsin in which they ran away with the game in the second half. In the round of 32 they faced off with another Cinderella hopeful in UC Irvine. The Ducks were clearly the better team in the game and even with a 7-minute scoring drought, Oregon left with a convincing 73-54.
Kenny Wooten is probably the most electric player left in the field besides Zion Williamson, providing an alley-oop target every time down the floor and an elite shot blocker on the defensive end. Wooten has 11 blocks in the two games thus far, including a 7-block performance against UC Irvine. However, Payton Pritchard is the heart and soul of the team. Pritchard is the teams primary ball handler, scorer and distributer and with surrounding pieces that include Louis King, it’s really not a surprise that the Ducks have made it this far.
With all the talk of Virginia’s defense, it’s easy to overlook that Oregon has allowed just 54 points in both of their games so far. An underrated defensive team who thrives off of momentum swings, Oregon will need everything in their power to get past Virginia. You really wonder how many shots this team could sent away between Wooten and Bol Bol if he never got injured.
Key to the Game
This will likely be low scoring game with both teams focusing on their defense. There will be limited transition opportunities, but both teams will need to make the most of them when they arise. With the majority of the game being ran through half-court sets, you get the feeling that Virginia matches up very well against the Ducks. Every possession is going to matter so limiting turnovers and making the most of your possessions will be crucial. Whichever teams happens to hit their open shots in this matchup could very well be the ones moving on to the Elite Eight.
#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue
The road has not been easy for the Volunteers up to this point. Tennessee was in a three-point game with Colgate with 2 minutes remaining in their tournament opener and were able to squeak by with a 7-point win. Then, after winning by as much as 25 points against Iowa, the Vols allowed the Hawkeyes to get back in the game and eventually force overtime where Tennessee pulled away for an 83-77 win.
Everybody knows about Grant Williams and how dominant he can be in the post, and about Admiral Schofield and his shot-making abilities, but this team truly thrives when the role players are stepping up. Jordan Bone is a very solid point guard who can shoot the three, push the ball and create for his teammates when the two stars are off the court. [Player Lamonte Turner] is another key piece to the puzzle as he is probably the team’s best three-point shooter.
The Vols have had an issue with foul trouble and turnovers leading up this game. They’re really shooting themselves in the foot but have still been able to hobble past their opponents to this point. When Tennessee plays fundamentally sound, they’re nearly unbeatable, but as we’ve seen, they are prone to making mistakes in which a team can capitalize on.
The Boilermakers have cruised their way into the Sweet 16 with wins over Old Dominion and Villanova. As a matter of fact, they’ve only trailed for a combine minute between their two games. The Old Dominion game was, well, an easy one for Purdue and Villanova came along and was much of the same. They haven’t played competition like Tennessee in the tournament, but with the way they’ve been playing I don’t know if it would be a problem.
Carsen Edwards is the team. It’s about as close to a one-man show as you can get in college basketball. He’s responsible for 46% of the team’s scoring through the two games and also has taken over 41% of the team’s shots. Sure, Matt Haarms pitches in here and there, and Ryan Cline can get hot from three, but don’t get it twisted, this is the Carsen Edwards show.
Key to the Game
Not to be redundant, but it’s Carsen Edwards. Purdue has no shot of beating Tennessee if Edwards has a 4-19 shooting night or something of the nature. But if he hits another 9 three-pointers like he did against Villanova, they can easily win. If Tennessee takes care of the ball and Edwards doesn’t go off for 30+, it probably could turn out to be an easy game for the Volunteers. With that being said, Edwards is a top-tier warrior and knows any game could be the last of his career as I think he’ll leave for the draft.
Final Four Prediction
Oregon had a good run, but Virginia will prove to be too much for the Ducks. Also, one man can only lead you so far in this tournament which is why I believe that Tennessee will ultimately outlast Purdue in what could end up being one of the best games of the tournament.
In a Tennessee vs. Virginia matchup in the Elite Eight, once again I think Virginia is just too much for a team like Tennessee to match up with. A turnover prone team versus the best defensive team in the country doesn’t seem like a pleasant night for the Vols. Virginia has got to be motivated to avenge last year’s blunder against UMBC and a national title would definitely help people forget that it happened.
Virginia over Tennessee: 66 – 60