The Runner Sports

2017 NCAA Tournament: Elite 8

As we inch our way towards the final games of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, we may find ourselves asking to be dropped back off at the Sweet 16 by the time it’s all said and done. The initial games of the tourney’s second weekend had it all: tight exciting games, clashes between legendary programs, OT, buzzer beaters, and so much more.

#1 Kansas Jayhawks vs #3 Oregon Ducks

The Jayhawks might not have dominated chatter entering the tournament as much as some of their top-seeded counterparts, but they’ve absolutely stolen center stage, the microphone, and your woman. The Jayhawks have challenged teams with their athletic plays, regularly turning to alley-oops and unconventional plays in such high-profile matchups.

It was a tale of two halves for the Kansas, who had Purdue breathing down their necks before slowly and then very rapidly separating for the 33-point win.

Oregon, meanwhile, has officially shed all doubt that they can’t be considered the real deal even without Chris Boucher, cracking back-to-back Elite 8s. They gutted the magical run for Michigan.

The Ducks continue to soar via their shooting from deep, Tyler Dorsey, in particular, being their go-to threat. Dorsey splashed 7-of-15 from range against the Wolverines. He’s also had six straight games where he’s dropped 20+ points.

The Jayhawks’ guard play has been something else, and they’ve continually reminded teams their second unit is just as talented throughout March. Between Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, the Jayhawks had a pair of 25-point scorers against Purdue.

Even though Jordan Bell has pulled down 37 rebounds so far this tournament, the Jayhawks showed just how great of rebounders they are against Purdue, outrebounding a top 50 Boilermakers team that had plenty of length, 36-29, including 12 offensive boards. Bell was clutch down the stretch, namely some key offensive boards to keep the Ducks in the mix late, however.

Originally a Final Four team for me, I’m staying safe and rocking chalk Jayhawk.

Prediction: Kansas

#1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs #2 Kentucky Wildcats

Butler put up a damn good fight but this UNC team looks poised to return to the NCAA Tournament Final and handle some unfinished business. A year after the most exhilarating final and stunning finishes we might see for some time, the Tar Heels were basked in the wrong colored confetti and look to redeem themselves.

Kentucky and UCLA alone could have been a title game thrice over. It was a fast paced back and forth that featured a pair of the nation’s winningest programs. A handful of NBA hopefuls had this feeling like it was actually much more than just a Sweet 16 affair.

The South region, not just for color sake, truly was the blue bloods of college basketball. By the Sweet 16, three of the four teams possessed 30.8% of all national titles (24) and at least one of UCLA, Kentucky, and UNC have been in the final bout 42.3% of the time. There’s no slowdown to the great matchups as the Tar Heels and Wildcats should deliver just as thrilling of action.

UNC’s gotten massive production out of Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II, and the supporting cast has collectively had plenty to say. It’s been a committee scoring affair from UK with some outliers. Freshman De’Aaron Fox set a Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament record with his 39 points, the most by a freshman.

The scoring blitzkrieg was impressive, but just as equally was Malik Monk’s handling of top-rated Lonzo Ball. Consistently making every phase of the game a labor for the potential top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Kentucky has shaken some early dust that had them looking like it might be a short-lived dance.

The two sides met earlier in the season in a rare showdown, with Kentucky taking the 103-100 win. The sides have clashed just three times in tournament play, with UNC owning a 2-1 head-to-head lead. All in all the Tar Heels are 11-5 against UK in neutral site games.

Just as Kentucky enacted some revenge for the early season loss to UCLA, UNC gets the final word here.

Prediction: North Carolina

#1 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs #11 Xavier Musketeers

I’m eating crow. Gonzaga did everything they needed to. Scoring 61 points against the stout West Virginia defense, their lowest-scoring output of the season, the Bulldogs gutted out the victory nonetheless. Sure we can talk about the Mountaineers’ failure to get a final shot off, but that’s just further testament to Gonzaga’s rise to the challenge. They matched brawn with brawn and won the ugly battle in the trenches.

It hasn’t quite struck midnight yet for our dear Cinderella. Xavier’s dance carries on after a heartful victory over Arizona, spoiling former coach Sean Miller from knocking on his first Final Four. The Musketeers shot just 69% from the charity stripe and were outrebounded 35-27 (14-7 offensive boards) yet still eked out the 73-71 win.

Neither side has ever graced the Final Four, so it’s cheery moments regardless of which sides takes the win.

It’ll be a unique new look for Gonzaga to absorb. The press obviously had resounding effects on their scoring. The Musketeers should look to sprinkle in a similar look from time to time. Their 2-3 zone will have its own effects on the standard of this game. With shooters and a really great passing big man in Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga might have all the requirements to break the zone down, however.

Jordan Mathews found himself in foul trouble amidst a rough shooting night but had ice in his veins when he sank the go-ahead three Thursday.

Trevon Bluiett will be the deciding factor for Xavier. His play will heavily dictate this team’s fortune. He’s scored 20+ points in each tournament game so far, and always seems to have an answer whenever his opposition looks to gain some momentum.

I actually like Gonzaga in this matchup. But as is tradition for me at this rate, I’d hate to deviate from such a well-established track record…

Prediction: Xavier

 

#4 Florida Gators vs #7 South Carolina Gamecocks

There are buzzer beaters, and then there’s the absurdity that was Chris Chiozza’s game-winner. A physics-defying shot that just had me in awe. Chiozza was flying down the court and somehow managed to slam the brakes enough to launch the ball well beyond the three and well on time. I won’t call it a shot because I whole-heartedly believe it was his forward momentum that carried the floater through the iron.

It was only fitting after Wisconsin had dashed so many hopes with their final moment heroics. A mad-dash rally to close the second and force OT highlighted by Zak Showalter’s three-pointer. It seemed only fitting for the Gators to make a rally of their own and respond in sincerity.

South Carolina, meanwhile, ran rampant through a Baylor team that just looked ill-prepared. The Bears might have kicked some early exit demons, but their no-show should haunt them for plenty of time.

You wouldn’t think about it unless you actually sat down and put some serious thought to it, but there hasn’t been a more dominant team in the last decade than the Florida Gators. Their seven Elite 8 appearances since 2006 matched only by North Carolina. Hey, they’re also the last team to win back-to-back titles.

At this point, I think South Carolina would prefer we continue to write them off. They held their first halftime lead in an NCAA Tournament game EVER against Baylor, and continue to check off firsts.

The Gamecocks won’t get cocky just yet, but they’ve strung decent enough outings together to feel pretty good about themselves. They’ll need to continue to get good production from the line, after shooting sub 70% all season, eclipsing that mark has certainly been key in their latest wins.

It’s rare to get an interconference game this deep into the tournament, so it should add some excitement to the matchup. Sadly, the MSG backdrop won’t allow either to relish in the standard SEC affair, but each had solid representation Friday and as such should have solid support Sunday.

Is this merely a fluke for South Carolina? If so when do they wake up and fall back to earth? Florida’s showcased some consistency in their victories, overcoming a wide encapsulating array of foes.

Prediction: Florida

 

 

It’s been a rough year of picking games in this NCAA Tournament. Chalk has taken back over, but will we see a double-digit seed crack the Final Four?  After the Sweet 16, I simply hope games continue to live up to what we’ve already seen.

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold

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