The committee got the top two squads right in the Midwest, but lost the three and four seeds in the second round. The number #1 seed Kansas and the #2 seed Duke have emerged as favorites to meet in the Elite Eight, But the #5 seed Clemson and the Cinderella of the group the #11 seed Syracuse hope to tell a different story on Friday in Omaha, NE in the Sweet 16!
The two blue bloods in this Region, Kansas, the Big 12 Champion, and Duke, the runners-up in the ACC are both loaded with talent and on paper look to be on a collsion course n Sunday, but anyone who has watched this tournament knows, nothing is inevitable.
The Midwest will either continue the upset trend or settle into the expected, which is a Duke -Kansas battle of titans. But, Clemson has been on fire beating #4 seeded Auburn by 31 points, 84-53, in the second round, while Syracuse held off #3 seed Michigan State 55-53 in a thriller. SO neither of the so called underdogs is going to rollover and be left for dead, they will come to play and look to pull Sweet 16 upsets!
Although Kansas & Duke looks to be the favorites here, they will face a tough challenges on Friday to move forward to the Elite Eight. With that in mind lets look forward and look at the Friday match-ups in the Midwest Region:
Midwest Region Sweet 16 Game One: #1 seed Kansas 29-7 vs #5 seed Clemson 25-9
Bill Self’s Kansas squad won its 14th straight Big 12 title this spring and has the tools to win the national title. They survived a real battle with Seton Hall 83-79, behind 6-4 Malik Newman’s 28 point outburst. He got solid support from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk with 16 points and 6-5 LaGerald Vick who chipped in with 13 points. In the match-up this Friday look for 7-0 soph Udoka Azubuike who had 10 points versus the Hall to be a real difference maker. The Jayhawks have good balance with five players averaging in double figures between 12.1 and 17.4 points headed by 6-2 point guard Devonte Graham who puts up 17 while handing out 6.6 assists an outing. He is their leader and has to lead by example against an athletic Clemson squad.
Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers finished tied for 3rd in the ACC, with North Carolina and Miami-FL. They did it after having to re-vamp their line-up after their #2 scorer 6-8 senior Donte Grantham tore his ACL 19 games into the season. The Tigers made the switch to a more perimeter oriented squad that utilizes a lock down perimeter defense to take opportunities away from opponents. They still feature four double digit scores in 6-3 Marcquise Reed (15.9ppg), 6-3 Gabe Devoe (13.7ppg), 6-3 Shelton Mitchell (12.3ppg), and 6-9 Elijah Thomas (10.9ppg & 8.1rpg). But, their defensive ability to disrupt opponents and create possessions have been the key to their late season success. Can they keep it going?
Keys to the win:
For Kansas – The Jayhawks have good guard pay and solid inside help, something that seems to be inevitable in Bill Self teams. They hit 40% from beyond the arc and create 17 assists a game. Numbers that they are going to have to attain versus the stingy perimeter defense that Clemson has shown in the NCAA tourney to date. But, the real key could come down to the bench, where they appear to have an advantage, especially if Azubuike can stay out of foul problems. He has been a difference maker on both ends coming off the bench, an advantage that could be the difference for Bill Self’s Jayhawks.
For Clemson – Can the Tigers keep the Kansas guards from getting in rhythm on the perimeter and take away the dribble drive and kick that has been successful for Kansas. Clemson isn’t fazed by adversity and they won’t get rattled by pressure of playing Kansas in the Sweet 16. They do however need to make sure they get high percentage shots early in the game, be patient and withstand the pressure of playing Kansas on pseudo home court in Omaha will create. They will need to attack the Kansas bigs to get them in trouble to neutralize the depth off the bench to have best shot to win this one.
The outcome: I think this one will be a close one from the opening tip and it will be decided in the second half based on who can maintain their defensive pressure to create possessions and create baskets or fouls down the stretch. I think Kansas will need the home court advantage to survive and advance in Omaha!
Midwest Region Sweet 16 Game Two: #2 seed Duke 28-7 vs #11 seed Syracuse 23-13
Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke squad comes into this match-up playing their best basketball of the year! That’s a scary thought for anyone to face the Blue Devils, but Jim Boeheim has one of the best zone defenses in the country and knows his squad will be ready to give Duke everything they wan on Friday. Duke has five players who average between 10 and 21 points a game and feature as many as three (Bagley, Carter, Allen) or more first round draft choices. Formidable yes unbeatable no as they have had consistency problems while dropping seven games this year. Syracuse finished tied for 10th in the ACC, and according to many shouldn’t be here, but don’t tell 6-6 Tyus Battle (19.3ppg), 6-8 Oshae Brissett (14.9ppg) 6-5 Frank Howard (14.6ppg) or any of their teammates that they don’t belong now, as they’ve gone from play-in game to the Sweet 16!
Keys to the win:
For Duke – The Blue Devils need to come to play, they can’t take the Orangemen for granted. They have to play on both ends, especially defense and not give the Syracuse squad any early confidence. They need to attack the seams of the zone and make open jumpers, then once they create space go inside to Carter and Bagley to attack the Orange frontline and get them in foul trouble. The longer they let Syracuse hang around the more dangerous they become!
For Syracuse – The Orangemen have to do what they do, play excellent zone defense, attack the passing lanes and control the tempo of the game to get it into the later stages where like they did against Michigan State. That strategy worked last weekend, and I think that they need to believe that is the formula to success. The Orange have to believe!
The outcome: Duke looks like a huge favorite, they have more depth, more firepower and heads to head more talent. Can the Syracuse zone nullify that, I don’t think so, it will keep it close, but if Duke comes ready to play they move on to the Elite Eight!
Up next we will break down the Elite Eight, on the road to the Final Four, right here at thebasketballchannel.net.