(1) Wisconsin vs. (4) North Carolina
In Wisconsin’s wins over Coastal Carolina and Oregon in its first two games of the tournament, Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Nigel Hayes accounted for 109 points and 47 rebounds. The trio will be difficult for any opponent to stop. Add in the talent of Bronson Koening, and the Badgers have as formidable a starting five as anyone left. The Badgers did allow Coastal Carolina to make 56.7%of its shots outside the paint, so this is an area they will have to buckle down on. As well, Wisconsin gave up 30 points to Oregon’s Joseph Young and will be facing another very talented scoring guard in UNC’s Marus Paige in their upcoming matchup.
Similarly to fellow ACC-member Notre Dame’s run to the sweet sixteen, the Tar Heels squeezed by its opponents to get to this point. Harvard had a last second opportunity to win its first round game against North Carolina, while UNC committed 16 turnovers in Saturday’s, nine-point win over Arkansas. Minus talented low-post scorer Kennedy Meeks, the Tar Heels will be facing a drastic rise in competition against Wisconsin.
Prediction: Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers have such a deep, multi-pronged attacked that the Tar Heels simply cannot match. This has led to them having the most efficient offense in the country. Bo Ryan’s team is experienced and is as good at controlling pace and protecting the ball as any in the nation. Meanwhile the loss of Kennedy Meeks is a major blow for North Carolina going up against a team that has such impressive low-post scoring already. The Tar Heels are very talented and there is always the Marcus Paige factor, but they are far too inconsistent. North Carolina did not have a “quality win” since January 10th before entering the ACC postseason tournament and are 8-10 overall against “quality teams” this season. And referring to Wisconsin as just a “quality team” is a heck of an understatement.
(2) Arizona vs. (6) Xavier
Sean Miller’s squad has simply looked as good as any team thus far in the tournament. First, the Wildcats defeated Texas Southern- which has wins over Michigan State and Kansas State on its resume- by 21 points, then the Wildcats topped Ohio State by 15 points. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds thus far, but remains one of many weapons. Freshman Stanley Johnson put on a fantastic offensive display in the first round, Brandon Ashley is a constant beast in the paint, and TJ McConnell just knows how to run an offense. Arizona’s offensive productivity and defensive effectiveness comprise the combination that past programs have used to win national championships.
The Musketeers have gotten it done thus far but it certainly seems like some luck has been on their side. Ole Miss stormed back from a 17-point deficit to beat an offensively potent BYU squad in the play-in game, and then Baylor, the region’s third-seeded team was upset by Georgia State in the first round. However, the Mustketeers have shot a blistering 67% from the field and has played well in both of its games, despite encountering a light slate.
Prediction: Arizona Wildcats
Arizona is the only team not named Kentucky to be ranked in the top-1o in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And outside the lone undefeated team, the Wildcats have emerged as just as likely a contender as anyone for the National Championship. They should be able to control the pace in their matchup with Xavier, who aren’t a good shooting team with just one player who makes better than 40% of their shots from behind the arc in Remy Abell. Matt Stainbrook is the Muskateers best player, but he faces a tough matchup in a big team that has even superior post players in Brandon Ashley and Caleb Tarczewski.