No.8 Butler (26-9) vs. No.2 Florida (29-7)
On Butler: Is this surprising to anyone? People seem to forget the Bulldogs actually made a run to the national title game last year and have four starters back from that squad. Butler would prefer to play an ugly, halfcourt style as opposed to Florida, which likes to spread the court and play fast. Unlike Butlers previous two opponents, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, the Gators will certainly want to run, which begs the question can Butler deal with Florida athleticism. A key for Butler will be the health of center Andrew Smith, who is fighting an ankle injury. If Smith isn’t 100 percent, it will be on Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack to guide the team. Based on what we’ve seen so far, betting against them might not be wise.
On Florida: The Gators put their best foot forward in Thursday’s win over BYU. They played smart basketball. Jimmer Fredette got his shot attempts, but no one else did anything. In fact Fredette was the only Cougar who even scored in double digits. The key for Florida will be keeping everyone involved on offense. Florida had four players in double figures against BYU, including Alex Tyus, who torched BYU’s front court for 19 points and 17 rebounds. The Gators backcourt of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker combined for 33 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. A repeat performance will mean a trip to the Final Four. Chandler Parsons (16 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists) will also be a factor. If the Gators can continue to exploit their offensive versatility, they could roll.
The pick: Butler has been tough. Mentally, there might not be a tougher team in the country. But Florida has so many playmakers on offense. Not to mention Butler (Smith) is a little banged up. Florida will pull away late.
No.6 Arizona (30-7) vs. No.3 Connecticut (29-9)
On Arizona: It’s hard to believe Arizona actually trailed 31-20 in Thursday’s win over Duke. They outscored the Blue Devils 73-46 the rest of the way en route to a 93-77 win. Wow. Wildcats forward Derrick Williams (32 points, 13 rebounds), likely a top five pick in the NBA draft, was a monster in the paint. He had help from Solomon Hill (13 points, 5 rebounds). If those two play even close to the level they did against Duke, Connecticut will have problems. But it can’t just be about those two, because of Kemba Walker. Arizona’s talented backcourt of Lamont Jones and Kyle Fogg has to be on their game defensively.
On Connecticut: Kemba Walker. You can’t go a minute without hearing that name. Walker is averaging 29 points over three NCAA Tournament games. He’s shooting 9-for-22 from three-point range and 25-for-56 from the field overall. The biggest key to Connecticut’s success has been the play of freshman swingman Jeremy Lamb. He had 24 in UConn’s win over San Diego State on Thursday, 14 against Cincinnati and 16 against Bucknell in the first round. He’s been the perfect compliment to Walker. Sophomore center Alex Oriakhi has been a terror on the boards. But he’ll have to pick up his offense against Arizona’s stud Derrick Williams. Oriakhi had just five points against the Aztecs and four against Cincinnati. That can’t happen against the Wildcats.
The pick: Arizona is on a wild ride, but Connecticut has the nation’s top late-game killer in Walker. Walker has carried the team on many occasions and he’s done it against top competition. Walker will again lift the Huskies to another level.