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Elite Eight Preview

I didn't wager any real money on last night's games, and it was a damn good thing, too, as several late plays wound up making my picks miss. In East Rutherford, Tim Floyd lost his cool and helped North Carolina nudge ahead of the spread. In Oregon, two extra free throws late put them over the spread line. No doubt those late covers by the favorites both made and ruined many a night in Vegas.

On to today's action:

3:40 p.m.
(1) Ohio State vs (2) Memphis

Andrew just left to attend this game, and though I don't have much rooting interest in either team, I wish I were headed down there myself. Work duties prevented that, though, so I'll be joining any of you who are around the site for the games.

Memphis has played better basketball than Ohio State so far this tournament, but the Buckeyes have a superior season resume. This dichotomy makes for a tough pick here, but we'll give it our best shot. The Buckeyes have lived dangerously this March, picking up dramatic comeback wins against both Xavier and Tennessee to reach the regional final. Memphis didn't have much trouble with their first two round wins, but let's face it: they were fortunate to beat Texas A&M. Acie Law makes that layup nine times out of ten, while Antonio Anderson misses one out of those last two free throws more often than not. Still, they deserve credit for grinding out what was essentially a road win.

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, finally play a team that can match them in strength and athleticism. While that might normally be cause for concern, as much as Ohio State has struggled with their last two perimeter-oriented teams, perhaps this actually will be a welcome change.

Memphis' offensive efficiency is a product of their getting to the rim for layups and close looks, and cleaning up the offensive glass. Indeed, they got four attempts at the winning basket against Texas A&M on Thursday. The Buckeyes are an above average team at gobbling up defensive rebounds, however, so Memphis probably won't be able to count on second chances as much as they normally do. For Ohio State on offense, they'll need to be aware of how aggressively the Tigers defend the perimeter and work hard to get good looks in the paint. If Oden gets in foul trouble, or isn't effective as a scorer, Ohio State may struggle to put up points. The Buckeyes have survived with a barrage of good shooting from beyond the arc, but Memphis will make winning that way awfully difficult. If Oden gets in foul trouble again today, there won't be any miracles left in the bag.

The Line: Ohio State -3
PB's Pick: Memphis 65 Ohio State 62
AW's Pick: Ohio State 72 Memphis 68
Final Score: Ohio State 92 Memphis 76

6:05 p.m.
(1) Kansas vs (2) UCLA
Awkward looking, yes. But damn good...
As much as people complain about the dearth of upsets, there's some pretty clear upside to the favorites marching along. Along with North Carolina-Georgetown, this battle between the Jayhawks and Bruins is a true clash of the titans. I'll be shocked if either team wins by double-digits, or even builds a lead that large.

As highly rated as Kansas' defense is, when the Bruins are locked in on the defensive end, it's tough to say anyone's better. On the flipside, the Jayhawks' offense is an absolute machine when all the pieces are working together. In particular, I'll be watching closely to see how UCLA defends Julian Wright, who's the key to this entire game. When Wright is playing well and getting lots of touches in the high post, the Kansas offense is incredibly difficult to defend. Wright's height, length, freaky athleticism, and superior vision make him a beast to defend. He's capable of scoring from anywhere inside 15 feet, but he's also capable of making moves, drawing defenders, and then finding open teammates for high percentage looks.

The main concern for UCLA will be on offense, where they operate pretty efficiently, but are prone to long dry spells if they aren't getting high percentage two point looks. This is particularly troublesome for UCLA against Kansas, who only allow opponents to make 40.1% of their two point field goals on the year, good for third best in the nation. The good news is that Kansas' defense hasn't been as ferocious recently as it was in the early and middle portions of the year. Kansas also isn't a dominant frontcourt team, which should give UCLA hope that they can bang away for some interior scoring. Still, UCLA also depends on second-chance looks, and on the season, Kansaas has been extremely proficient at taking away potential offensive rebounds.

If the Jayhawks do the things they've done well all year and limit UCLA's easy scoring chances while clamping down on the rebounds, they should be headed to Atlanta to cut down the nets. That's a big if, though, especially with a team as physical as UCLA. Further, if the battle with Southern Illinois was representative of how Kansas will play today, the Bruins are better equipped than the Salukis to take advantage and pull out a win.

The Line: Kansas -2.5
PB's Pick: Kansas 62 UCLA 61
AW's Pick: Kansas 65 UCLA 60
Final Score: UCLA 68 Kansas 55