No.11 Marquette (22-14) vs. No.2 North Carolina (28-7)
On Marquette: You have to admire the Golden Eagles. They were one of the last Big East teams to make the field, but they’ve survived. Beating Syracuse was an impressive feat. If there’s one thing Marquette has going to for it, it is offensive versatility. Darius Johnson-Odom, who hit the big three late to doom Syracuse in the round of 32, Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder are do-everything types of wing players who can score from anywhere on the court. The question is what will Marquette do to counter North Carolina’s size. The Golden Eagles have just two players over 6-7 in Chris Otule (6-11) and Davante Gardner (6-9). The two average a combined 9.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Get the picture? Someone will need to come out of his shell for Marquette to have a chance.
On North Carolina: Size and power has been the story for the Tar Heels. Super freshman Harrison Barnes (15.5 ppg), Tyler Zeller (15.2, 7.1 reb) and John Henson (11.9 ppg, 10.1 reb) form the best frontcourt trio in the country. Getting around those three has proven a difficult task for the better part of four months. The only knock on the Tar Heels has been the backcourt. Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and Kendall Marshall don’t usually offer much in the way of points. They don’t have to with such a dominant front line. But if for some reason Zeller and or Henson gets in early foul trouble, can Roy Williams’ young guards pick up the slack? Marshall and McDonald have been dependable three-point shooters, so if Marquette crowds the paint, it could be a big day for one or both of them.
The pick: Marquette’s run was impressive, but North Carolina’s size will prevail. Zeller, Barnes and Henson are just too versatile for Marquette to deal with.
No.4 Kentucky (27-8) vs. No.1 Ohio State (34-2)
On Kentucky: The Wildcats forced youth movement has really picked up steam. Saturday’s win over West Virginia was the eighth straight for Kentucky. Much of this can be attributed to Brandon Knight. The freshman guard had an awful game against Princeton in the first round. Well, he was bad for 39 minutes. He hit a game-winning layup in the waning seconds to win it. But he was lights out from start to finish against the Mountaineers with 30 points. If he continues his torrid shooting, he could carry the Wildcats into the Final Four by himself. Ok, he won’t be all by himself. Fellow freshman Terrence Jones was solid against a rugged West Virginia team with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The big surprise for the Wildcats has been the play of 6-10, 275-pound Josh Harrellson. He’s averaging 12.2 points and eight rebounds over his last five games. If he can do anything to slow down Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, the Wildcats have a great chance.
On Ohio State: It’s been an easy tournament for the Buckeyes so far. Jared Sullinger has played just 22 minutes in Ohio State’s 98-66 second-round win over George Mason. He’ll be tested by the Wildcats big front line, which means the Buckeyes’ three-point bombing crew of William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lightly will need to perform. It shouldn’t be a problem since the three are shooting a combined 45 percent from three-point range. If those three shoot close to that, it could be lights out in a hurry for Kentucky. But if there is one flaw in the Buckeyes’ resume, it’s the lack of quality opponents outside of the Big Ten. Outside of a win at Florida at the beginning of the season, the Buckeyes have yet to see a power team outside of its comfort zone. We’ll see how they respond to a team that could really score.
The pick: Ohio State will finally get tested by a quality team outside of its conference comfort zone. But Sullinger will have the game the Buckeyes need him to have and overwhelm Kentucky’s freshmen.
No.12 Richmond (29-7) vs. No.1 Kansas (34-2)
On Richmond: Surprise. I’ll bet not a lot of people saw this coming. In fact, there were some people who think Richmond only made the tournament because it won the Atlantic 10 tournament title. Richmond’s triple threat of Justin Harper, Dan Geriot and Kevin Anderson are the real deal. They all can shoot the three and they all are capable of dropping 25 on any given night. The trio will need help from everyone to contain what has become a very balanced Kansas squad. They’ll especially need some help in the paint to contain Markieff and Marcus Morris. Reserve forward Darrius Garrett played just 12 minutes in Richmond’s win over Morehead State in the second round, but he had seven rebounds. He’ll need to step up that production for Richmond to have a shot.
On Kansas: What more needs to be said or written about Markieff and Marcus Morris. The twins from Philadelphia are the best forward tandem in the country. The two play very well off the Jayhawks backcourt of Tyrel Reed and Tyshawn Taylor. Then there is freshman guard Josh Selby, who has done his best to get through a turbulent season (NCAA suspension, foot injury). Could this be his second coming out party? He played sparingly in Kansas’ first two games, but who knows? If Richmond sets out to shut down the Morris twins, Selby might get an opportunity to shine. Even if it doesn’t work out that way, Kansas has more than enough firepower to get past the Spiders.
The pick: Like Marquette, Richmond had a great ride. But Kansas’ balance, depth and consistency will carry it to a win.
No.11 VCU (26-11) vs. No.10 Florida State (23-10)
On VCU: Another surprise. Show me the brackets of people who had this matchup. Most experts and fans didn’t think VCU deserved to be in the tournament. Jamie Skeen, a forward with NBA talent, and his partner in crime Bradford Burgess has carried the team on their backs. It makes you wonder why the Rams had what most would call a lackluster regular season, at least for a mid-major team that received an at-large bid. Some pointed to the absence of senior guard Brandon Bozzell, who missed eight games with a wrist injury. But VCU went 7-1 in those games. The bottom line is the Rams are at full strength. Bozzell had 26 points in VCU’s upset of Georgetown, while talented point guard Joey Rodriguez had 12 points and 11 assists in an upset of Purdue in the round of 32. With so much versatility on offense, will Florida State be able slow down the Rams?
On Florida State: The hope for Florida State fans is that the Seminoles’ win over Notre Dame wasn’t an aberration. As well as they played, it was a performance that exceeded what they normally do. With just two dependable scorers in Chris Singleton (13 ppg) and St. John’s transfer Derwin Kitchen (10 ppg) most of the season, you have to wonder where the offense is going to come from. VCU is a team that can score with anyone. Notre Dame was a potent offensive squad, too, but the Irish don’t have the athletes VCU does. Forward Bernard James surprised everyone with 14 points against the Irish. He averaged just 8.6 during the season. Okaro White and Michael Snaer, who had 10 and 13 points, respectively, against Notre Dame, also had break-through games. All three will need to have a repeat performance.
The pick: VCU has too much talent on offense for Florida State to deal with. The scoring-by-committee deal that has carried the Seminoles will end tonight.