BRACKET BLOG: Elite Eight

We come to it at least — the beginning of the end. There only are seven basketball games (that matter) left in the 2009-2010 season. Cherish every single one of them.

There's two today and two tomorrow, of course, but my ability to enjoy the latter three greatly will be enhanced by a positive outcome in the first one today.

Follow the jump for my thoughts on all four Elite Eight games.

Previous Entries:

The Teams

 

The Sites

  • Houston, Texas
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • St. Louis, Mo.
  • Syracuse, N.Y.

 

East Region

No. 1 Kentucky (35-2) vs. No. 2 West Virginia (30-6)
March 27 | 6:05 p.m. | Syracuse

How They Got Here:
No. 1 Kentucky 62, No. 12 Cornell 45
No. 2 West Virginia 69, No. 11 Washington 56

John Wall. Da'Sean Butler. DeMarcus Cousins. Devin Ebanks. Patrick Patterson. Joe Mazzulla. Eric Bledsoe. Uh... Deniz Kilicli?

OK, I'm outta gas. Should be a hell of a game, though. Hordes of athletes, tons of dunks, a bunch of 3s and defense out the wazoo.

Not to mention John Calipari vs. Bob Huggins. Hell, you could sell me tickets to that alone.

Kentucky will win, by the way. Why? Guard play. WVU has none and Kentucky has John freakin' Wall.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Kentucky 67, West Virginia 65
Sagarin: Kentucky 63, West Virginia 61

 

Midwest Region

UPSET ALERT: No. 5 Michigan State (27-8) vs. No. 6 Tennessee (28-8)
March 28 | 1:20 p.m. | St. Louis

How They Got Here:
No. 5 Michigan State 59, No. 9 Northern Iowa 52
No. 6 Tennessee 76, No. 2 Ohio State 73

At this point, is it really an upset if either one of these teams wins? Neither of them was supposed to make it this far, but thanks to the epic fail of Kansas, Ohio State, Georgetown and Maryland, they did.

The winner most likely will be the only sub-No. 3 seed in the Final Four, but don't let that fool you. Tom Izzo is a master of March Madness and Bruce Pearl's team is having its best season ever.

Both test cases prove that getting this far is more about team integrity and chemistry than overall talent level.

Despite losing its best player to injury, Michigan State keeps marching on, and Tennessee truly found itself only after kicking its best player off the team.

Tennessee always will be a sentimental favorite for me, thanks to the Volunteers humbling Kansas and Kentucky earlier this season, and freeing me from having to hear about stupid Evan Turner for the rest of this tournament.

And the computers seem to indicate it's too close to call.

But you don't bet against the Izzone in March. Look for Sparty to reach its second straight Final Four.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Michigan State 68, Tennessee 67
Sagarin: Tennessee 68, Michigan State 67

 

South Region

UPSET ALERT: No. 1 Duke (32-5) vs. No. 3 Baylor (28-7)
March 28 | 4:05 p.m. | Houston

How They Got Here:
No. 1 Duke 70, No. 4 Purdue 57
No. 3 Baylor 72, No. 10 Saint Mary's 49

Several weeks ago, I predicted Baylor over Duke in this game, and I see no reason to change that opinion now.

I'll give credit to Duke for getting this far, though. The Blue Devils have made it a habit in recent years to fall out of the Dance before the Elite Eight comes around. Not only did they not do that this year, they won against straight chalk — without the benefit of any upsets.

Compare that to Baylor, which hasn't faced a single-digit seed yet and just won in a laugher over Saint Mary's. Will the Bears be able to flip the switch and generate the necessary intensity against the No. 1 seed in its region?

In a word: Yes. Baylor has home-court advantage and, quite simply, has more NBA-ready players than any other team in the South Region — including Duke. Cal is a flawed team and Purdue is a shell of its former self without Robbie Hummel.

Duke hasn't been tested much more than Baylor, and it certainly wasn't tested as much by its conference as the Bears were in the Big 12. I think Slimy/Smiley Scott Drew gets it done over Coach K tomorrow.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Duke 71, Baylor 65
Sagarin: Duke 74, Baylor 70

 

West Region

UPSET ALERT: No. 2 Kansas State (29-7) vs. No. 5 Butler (31-4)
March 27 | 3:30 p.m. | Salt Lake City

How They Got Here:
No. 2 Kansas State 101, No. 6 Xavier 96 (2OT)
No. 5 Butler 63, No. 1 Syracuse 59

On paper, this shouldn't be close.

If the Cats take care of business and do a lot of the things they did in the last three games — rebound the hell out of the ball, play nasty defense (but please stop fouling so much!), Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente stay hot, Wally Judge and Jamar Samuels continue to come out of their shells — they should win by a decent margin.

But who can predict the mentality of these teams when a Final Four is at stake? I've seen mega-talented teams do some of the dumbest things imaginable when that much pressure was on the line. And the Cats certainly haven't been immune to their fair share of brain farts this season.

My heart says the Wildcats win by pulling away with free throws at the end. My head says it probably will be closer than any of us want to see, especially after Thursday night's heart-pounding thriller.

GAMER: no predicted score
KenPom: Kansas State 69, Butler 66
Sagarin: Kansas State 71, Butler 68

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