No.11 VCU (27-11) VS. No.1 Kansas (35-2)
On VCU: VCU’s run is truly the stuff that dreams are made of. But don’t be fooled by the Rams 11 losses or the conference they play in. The Rams have talent all up and down their roster. And it starts with 6-9, 240-pound Jamie Skeen. Skeen had an off game (11 points, 8 rebounds) in Friday’s 72-71 overtime win over Florida State. But he was picked up by Bradford Burgess (26 points) and Brandon Rozzell. Either of those three are capable of dropping 25 on any given day. Heady point guard Joey Rodriguez had 10 assists in the win. If the Rams are allowed to have free reign with their offense, we could have two mid-majors in the Final Four for the first time since tournament expansion in 1985.
On Kansas: The Jayhawks have had a relatively easy time. Kansas’ victory margin is 17.2 points. Can that continue against a versatile offensive team in VCU? Markieff and Marcus Morris are the best forward duo in the country. And they will make things very tough on VCU’s frontline. Markieff struggled against Richmond on Friday with just five points. Rest assured that won’t happen again. The key for the Jayhawks will be Brady Morningstar. The senior guard had 18 points –11 points above his season average of 7 points– on 7-for-11 shooting. Bill Self could sure use him to be on fire again. Getting another solid performance from sophomore forward Thomas Robinson (12 points, 14 rebounds) could help, too.
The pick: VCU has had a great run. Is beating Kansas too much to ask for a mid-major that was a questionable tournament team to being with? Nope. Skeen and company will pull off the upset.
No.4 Kentucky (28-8) vs. No.2 North Carolina (29-7)
On Kentucky: All the talk was about Kentucky’s youngsters. Freshman Brandon Knight had the biggest play of Friday’s 62-60 win over Ohio State, a 15-foot jumper with five seconds left. But the biggest performance came from senior center Josh Harrellson, who had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. It was just the type of play Wildcats coach John Calipari needed. Harrellson will need to have a repeat effort against North Carolina’s impressive front. Kentucky also received a big time effort from junior DeAndre Liggins. Liggins had 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks. As well as Harrellson and Liggins played, asking them to exceed expectations again might be too much. The Wildcats freshmen trio of Knight (8 points), Terrence Jones (9 points) and Doron Lamb (6 points) will need to bring their play up a notch.
On North Carolina: The Tar Heels were all but unstoppable against Marquette. The Tar Heels front line of Tyler Zeller (27), Harrison Barnes (20) and John Henson (14) had their way in the paint. The three were so dominant that Roy Williams didn’t really need much from his guards. Kendall Marshall was solid anyway, with seven points, seven assists and four rebounds. Dexter Strickland had eight points on 3-for-4 shooting. The Tar Heels aren’t likely to get that much production from their front court, but Zeller and company are an excellent trio. Even an average game from the three could be enough to get them past Kentucky.
The pick: Whichever team plays the best to their strengths will win. We’re going with the Tar Heels and their massive front line.