Xavier is gone. That is excellent news. Kansas is also gone, which is less so. That means Gonzaga and Oregon are continuing to dance, but we have to figure out who their dance partners will be next weekend in Phoenix for the Final Four. That will be decided this afternoon with the final two games of the Elite Eight. Here’s what to look out for.
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida
Region/Location: East/Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
Time/Channel: 2:20 p.m./CBS
Line: Florida -3.5
Who to root for: Florida graced us all with the first and only buzzer beater of this year’s NCAA Tournament. Chris Chiozza nailed a three-pointer at the end of overtime in the most dramatic finish of this year’s tournament, setting up this unlikely matchup of SEC programs in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region. If you missed Chioza’s shot and don’t think my words did it justice (they didn’t) then here’s a look.
On the other side is team of destiny South Carolina, which has made it to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history and is Cincinnati’s spirit animal, ranking second in the country in defensive efficiency (87.8), although Florida isn’t that far off either, ranking fourth. The Gamecocks absolutely destroyed No. 3 seed Baylor in the Sweet 16 (70-50).
What’s incredible is that both of these teams lost in their first matchups of the SEC Tournament but have turned on the afterburners now. These teams split the season series, although the most recent decision was an 81-66 rout in favor of the Gators. There’s reason to pull for both sides here, but South Carolina’s Cinderella status and slight edge in defensive acumen makes it the team to favor from a Cincinnati perspective.
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 1 North Carolina
Region/Location: South/FedEx Form, Memphis, Tennessee
Time/Channel: 5:05 p.m./CBS
Line: North Carolina -3
Who to root for: On the other side of today’s ticket is a matchup of traditional powers. These two teams are No. 1 and No. 2 in all-time Final Four appearances, with the Tar Heels leading the way (19) and the Wildcats just behind that (17). So throw the underdog story-lines out the window. Its not surprising that either of these teams have made it this far.
UNC is the better offensive team, ranking sixth in adjusted offense, while Kentucky is the better squad on the defensive end, ranking seventh in adjusted defense. The Tar Heels feature four double figures scorers, including Justin Jackson.
No. Not that Justin Jackson, unfortunately. It’s this guy. A 6’8” junior averaging 18.7 points per game this season.
Kentucky also features four double figure scorers, none more talented than Malik Monk, another John Calipari super freshman who is averaging 20.1 points per game.
But I’m stalling, I’m not really sure who to root for in this game, but I know I’ll be watching the individual matchups between Monk and Joel Berry and Jackson and Edrice Adebayo with gusto. Even if their isn’t a clear rooting favorite, watching such talented players, many of who will be playing in the NBA as early as next season, makes this a must-see contest.