Friday, May 27, 2022 |
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They’ve come this far.
To reach this weekend and not make the Final Four will leave a bitter taste with every team for an entire offseason.
One team coming off its biggest win of the season in a domination of Duke, one that survived overtime against The Jimmer, one riding a wave of momentum behind a superstar and one returning Cinderella hoping to defy the odds again.
Picks for today’s action:
Florida (2) vs. Butler (8)
Not many expected to see more teams from the SEC than from the Big East and Big Ten combined once the Elite Eight rolled around, but the Florida Gators are one of the few teams playing up to its seeding. They are hoping to continue that trend today against the Butler Bulldogs, who are attempting to make improbable back-to-back trips to the Final Four.
Florida stepped up to the challenge against BYU and did a good job shutting down Jimmer Fredette — yes, he scored 32 points, but they actually did shut him down for much of the game. The Gators have size and explosiveness in the paint, to go with versatility on the wings. Standing 6 feet 10 inches, forward Chandler Parsons leads the team in both rebounding and assists, while averaging 11.5 points and shooting 37 percent from three-point range.
Butler has faced three opponents known for defense and size in the paint, so it won’t be intimidated by another big team thrown in its path. Forward Matt Howard continues to display his improvement from a year ago, as the big man can now step outside and be an inside-outside threat — much like Parsons. Howard had the game-winning hoops in Butler’s first two wins, then went for 20 points and eight rebounds against Wisconsin on Thursday.
The Gators showed a desire against BYU which was a welcome sight for a team that had many lapses throughout the regular season. They now seem to believe they belong where they are and are relishing the opportunity.
Butler also feels it deserves to be where it is, no matter what the seed in front of its name may indicate. The experience of last year’s run has clearly made this time around less surprising and more expected for those on the Bulldogs roster.
Both teams’ styles should make for an exciting game that will come down to the wire. Whoever makes the big play in the final minute will be heading to Houston. Not much reason to go against the darlings at this point.
Connecticut (3) vs. Arizona (5)
Perhaps the two best players left in the tournament will go head to head, as Arizona’s Derrick Williams and UConn’s Kemba Walker battle for Western supremacy.
Williams was the reason the Wildcats stayed within striking distance of Duke in the first half, Thursday, as he scored 25 points and nailed five 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes to keep ‘Zona within six at the break. The big man had the game-winner against Texas and has carried this team most of the season.
Walker is doing the same for the Huskies, as he poured in 36 points in a win over San Diego State and has led UConn to eight straight victories in one-and-done situations, including the five straight it won in the Big East tournament.
This UConn team is not as big as past Jim Calhoun units, so it likes to get out in the open court and speed up the tempo. Transition offense is one of its strengths, while it still manages to somehow be effective in the half court, though Walker seems to be the only weapon. Calhoun has been using him off the ball more often, running the lightning-quick guard off screens to free him up instead of hoping he can create every trip down the court.
Freshman Jeremy Lamb had a career-high 24 in the win over the Aztecs and has now scored in double figures in eight straight games. If he can continue that trend, UConn will have a great chance.
If Arizona can limit Lamb’s production and gets strong inside play from Jamelle Horne and Solomon Hill, it will be able to overpower the UConn front line.
Williams will be a better pro than Walker, but the Kemba Show seems to have at least one more act.
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