#7 Michigan vs #3 Oregon. In an intriguing matchup of teams that like to get up and down the court, it’s likely the defense that will prove to be the biggest factor in who comes away the winner. Unfortunately for the Ducks, Chris Boucher was a big part of that defense during the season and his absence is glaring. Jordan Bell will have to be the guy that steps into that role tonight. Brooks, Dorsey, and even Ennis will be productive, but it’s the role players that need to fill in and provide the spark that is needed when the Wolverines knock down a few threes in a row. On the flip side you’ve got a team that is gelling at the best time possible. After winning the Big Ten Tournament in Cinderella fashion, Michigan has gone on to win two games against solid competition and they don’t look like they’re slowing down. DJ Wilson has been a factor as the athletic big man with a soft touch from the free throw line. And Derrick Walton Jr. has been the leader scoring and in general. It will come down to defense and efficiency scoring. Oregon 77, Michigan 72.
#4 West Virginia vs #1 Gonzaga. For whatever reason I had Northwestern coming through to this point and then getting blown out by West Virginia. I don’t think the same will happen to Gonzaga, but won’t be surprised to see the Mountaineers prevail. They’ve shot the ball well and applied Press Virginia with reckless abandon. If they can score 70-plus AND make the Zags work from the perimeter/get their bigs in foul trouble this will be a long night. Gonzaga needs more from their front court. Karnowski has been a bull in the first two games but he’s not going to be able to do in on his own. Johnathan Williams hasn’t had the kind of impact I expected and he needs to be a helping hand down low (even if Zach Collins and Killian Tillie have been surprisingly present). Nigel Williams-Goss can’t do it on his own. West Virginia 79, Gonzaga 70.
#4 Purdue vs #1 Kansas. For all the pub that Caleb Swanigan has gotten (and rightfully so), there’s so much more to the Big Ten regular season champs. Hard-nosed defense and three point shooting are two things that automatically come to mind. Another is the length on the perimeter and up front that has actually gotten smaller since last season. Still, Isaac Haas is huge and is tough to slow down when he gets going. Vince Edwards has inside-outside potential at 6’8, and guys like Ryan Cline and PJ Thompson provide the tough attitude with 3-and-D that make this club a tough out even when Biggie isn’t getting 20 and 10 (which he will anyways). Meanwhile, Kansas has had a shorter bench than I thought they might employ over the course of the season. But the talent is there and they’ve been sticking to the 3-guard lineup of Graham, Mason, and Jackson to ride to this point anyways. It’s going to take a big effort from Lucas and Bragg to get this one done (Azabuike really would’ve been a BIG help). The x-factors will likely be Mykhailluk and Vick as slashers/long-range threats. Purdue 71, Kansas 69.
#11 Xavier vs #2 Arizona. Did anyone see Xavier making it this far? Forget the fact that they made my Maryland Terrapins look pathetic in the first round. They have been impressive so far and there’s no reason to think they they can’t keep this up. Missing Edmund Sumner and Myles Davis (there two best players a year ago) is enough of an excuse to give up. Instead they have a legitimate chance to make it to the Elite Eight. Then they realized they were playing against the buzz saw that is the Arizona Wildcats. As if Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins weren’t good enough as a pair, Allonzo Trier had to come back and make this team a bona fide contender. Ristic and Comanche provide size, Allen and Simmons provide additional scoring, and Jackson-Cartwright provides an additional ball-handler/floor leader. When these guys d up it’s tough to stop them. When they are hitting perimeter shots with regularity it’s almost impossible. Arizona 89, Xavier 84.