No.3 Connecticut (25-9) vs. No.2 San Diego State (34-2)
On Uconn: It’s pretty simple for the Huskies. Make sure Kemba Walker gets the ball and gets his fair share of shots. He doesn’t have to be unconscious, but he has to be a threat. If the Aztecs can limit Walker’s touches, they’ll have half the battle won. But the other half of the battle could be just as tough. Freshman wingman Jeremy Lamb has kicked into another gear. Lamb is averaging 14.4 points over his last seven games. More importantly, the freshman has hit 7 of his last 9 three-point attempts. Sophomore big man Alex Oriakhi has also been producer for the Huskies. He averaged 11.2 points and 10 rebounds in five Big East Tournament games. If Oriakhi is creating problems in the paint, Connecticut fans can rest easy.
On San Diego State: As well as the Aztecs have played, this will be one of their few chances at the big time. Outside of three games against BYU and a first-round double OT win against Temple, San Diego State hasn’t had a lot of experience against the power conference. At least not this season. But after a spirited win over Temple, Steve Fisher’s crew should be ready. It all starts with a versatile front court of Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas. All three have proven to be capable double-digit scorers who can also play defense. The key is can the experience of seniors White and Thomas fluster Connecticut’s young front. On the perimeter, Chase Tapley and James Rahon can absolutely light it up.
No.5 Arizona (29-7) vs. No.1 Duke (32-4)
On Duke: There’s little we don’t know about Duke. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler did a fabulous job carrying the load in Kyrie Irving’s absence. But Irving is back and put a huge stamp on his return with the eventual game-winning jumper in Duke’s win over Michigan. Irving gives the Blue Devils another potent weapon in the back court who can penetrate, shoot and pass. The Plumlee brothers (Miles, Mason) along with Ryan Kelly, have locked things down in the Paint.
On Arizona: We’d be lying if we told you that Arizona was expected to be here. The Wildcats have flown so far under the radar we thought they were six feet under. Derrick Williams has been everything to the Wildcats. He had the winning three-point play in Arizona’s upset of Texas in the second round and a game-saving block in the Wildcats’ opening-round win over Memphis. Williams is going to need some help if Arizona is going to knock off Duke. Lamont “Mo Mo” Jones was scoreless in the win against Texas. But he had 18 against Memphis. He’ll need to be a consistent threat for the Wildcats. It would also help if junior guard Kyle Fogg could be of some assistance. He hasn’t had a double-digit scoring effort since a 20-point game in a win over Oregon on March 5. That’s five straight games of five or less points.
No.3 BYU (32-4) vs. No.2 Florida (28-7)
On BYU: My oh my has Jimmer Fredette taken the tournament by storm. We thought the absence of Brandon Davies was going to hurt the Cougars. It’s made things tougher on Fredette, but he’s taken his game to another level. Fredette is averaging 34.1 points since Davies was dismissed from the team. Jackson Emery had 16 points in Saturday’s win over Gonazga. He’ll need to duplicate that performance for BYU to have a chance because Fredette can’t do it alone.
On Florida: The Gators have everything it takes to get by BYU. Irving Walker and Kenny Boynton are a stellar backcourt duo, while the Florida front court of Chandler Parsons, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus is athletic and versatile. A team effort by the Gators could overwhelm BYU. But Florida can’t fall in love with the three-point line even though they shoot it well.
No. 3 Butler (25-9) vs. No.4 Wisconsin (25-8)
On Butler: Two games and two buzzer beaters (well, one buzzer beater and one last-second foul shot). Is there at team out there that is tougher or more resilient than Butler? That happens when you have four starters back from a squad that made a run to the championship game the previous season. Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Andrew Smith are the ring leaders for Butler this year. Howard as especially showed his mettle, hitting the winning shots in both of Butler’s wins. But can Butler continue to live so dangerously?
On Wisconsin: It’s been another quiet ascent by Wisconsin. The Badgers inside-out combo of center Jon Leuer (18.7 ppg) and guard Jordan Taylor (18) can be lethal at times. The Badgers may need to force feed Leuer, if necessary, to keep Butler honest. Leuer’s effectiveness will make Keaton Nankivil that much more of a deadly bomber from three-point range. Nankivil is already a 45 percent three-point shooter. Once he gets going, it could be lights out for Butler.
The picks: Still not sold on San Diego State. Outside of Gonazaga, BYU and Temple, who have they played? Kemba Walker will continue on his torrid pace and lift UConn to victory.
Duke has everything going for it. Experience, skill size, etc... Arizona just doesn't have the offense to keep pace with the Blue Devils.
Jimmer Fredette has played his best basketball when BYU needs him to. But is he enough to get by Florida. The Gators have done it with team work. They have a deep lineup, which will overcome the Cougars down the stretch.
Don't expect a lot of scoring from Butler and Wisconsin. Both teams will will play the halfcourt game. Look for Butler's experience to prevail.