(1) Kentucky – (3) Baylor:
First off, let’s focus on the real news here: Baylor will NOT be wearing their lovely neon uniforms today, as they will wear the all-black duds instead . Why, you ask? Because the Bears are the lower-seeded team, thus they must wear dark colors. Baylor could have used the highlighter-colored uniforms in this one as a possible attempt to blind the UK players, because Kentucky is good. Really, really good. Of course, everyone knew this coming into the Tournament, during which the Wildcats have done nothing to persuade anyone otherwise. They are coming off a 102-point outburst against Indiana and have waltzed into the Elite Eight. In my bracket, I picked this exact matchup and predicted Baylor to win.
Since I’m not someone to go back on my word, I’m going to make the case for the Bears here. If you look at UK’s two losses this year (Indiana and Vanderbilt), they’ve come to teams who can do three things: shoot the three, have big men that can contend with Davis and Jones, and have the length and athleticism to really contest UK’s shots. Baylor has all three of these pieces, making them more than capable of taking down the Wildcats. Heslip is as good from behind the arc as anyone in the nation; the Joneses and Acy can bang down low; and the entire roster is long and athletic enough to contest UK on the defensive end. Is it likely that the Bears win? No. Can they? Yes.
(1) North Carolina – (2) Kansas:
In what was probably the easiest Elite Eight matchup to predict, Roy Williams will face his old team as UNC faces off against Kansas with a trip to New Orleans on the line. The obvious storyline in this one is the health status of Kendall Marshall, who is questionable to play due to a broken right wrist suffered during UNC’s second-round matchup with Creighton. Of course, the Jayhawks are the trendy pick due to Butter’s injury and UNC’s poor performance against Ohio. Despite this, I’m sticking with the Tar Heels for a few reasons. Firstly, UNC will not turn the ball over 24 times again like they did against the Bobcats. A large number of these turnovers were careless mistakes, and 3 of them came with Justin Watts at the point- which I doubt we will see much of in this one. Stilman White did a much better job running the offense for Carolina, as he had 6 assists and 0 turnovers. Secondly, I don’t think Harrison Barnes will shoot nearly as poorly as he did (3-16) against Ohio. Thirdly, if that is even a word, Kansas does not shoot the 3 nearly as well as Ohio, which is the main reason the Bobcats gave UNC a scare. With all of that being said, KU is certainly a great team. Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson are one of the best one-two punches in the country, and the Jayhawks have a ton of experience in their starting 5. However, if Henson, McAdoo, and Zeller can get T-Rob in foul trouble early, the Tar Heels could really go at Jeff Withey and smaller backups Kevin Young and Justin Wesley. In the end, it will be tough for UNC to pull out a W without Marshall, but I think that their size and a (hopefully) resurgent Harrison Barnes can pull them through to NOLA. Of course, there’s still a chance Kendall does play, but even if he does: will he actually be effective?