Two down. Two more to go.
Ohio State and Louisville locked up their trips to the Final Four on Saturday. Now four more teams will look to secure the final two spots this afternoon.
Today’s matchups feature three traditional powerhouse programs that are quite familiar with this stage of the NCAA tournament. The fourth participant, Baylor, is in the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons.
Baylor (3) vs. Kentucky (1), 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS
Things to know: Baylor has the tools, talent and length to make this game interesting.
When the NCAA tournament field was announced, this potential matchup was as intriguing as any in the South Region because Baylor possesses the type of athletes and size to challenge the Wildcats.
Five players with 7-foot wingspans (or greater). A 1-3-1 zone that’s as unique -- with its athletes, talent and size -- as Syracuse’s.
Quincy Acy is more than a beard. The 6-foot-7 senior had 20 points and 15 rebounds in Friday’s win over Xavier in the Sweet 16.
Brady Heslip is 15-for-25 (60 percent) from beyond the arc in the NCAA tournament. And even though he’s been inconsistent in the Big Dance, Perry Jones III (14 points, five rebounds against the Musketeers) is built for this matchup.
The Bears were overlooked and criticized as Missouri and Kansas fought for the Big 12 title, but they're solid on offense (10th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings) and defense (39th in defensive efficiency).
But. But. But, they’re playing Kentucky.
Indiana scored 90 points against the Wildcats on Friday. The Hoosiers hit 52 percent of their shot attempts and only committed eight turnovers. Christian Watford (27 points) and Cody Zeller (20 points) led five double-figure scorers. And Kentucky's Anthony Davis played just 25 minutes after early foul trouble.
And still, the Hoosiers couldn’t pull off the upset.
Kentucky scored 102 points and only turned the ball over six times. The Wildcats always seem to have another gear, another level that their opponents can’t match.
Indiana would have advanced past every other remaining team with its effort Friday. But the Wildcats are different.
Baylor, however, could offer Kentucky its greatest matchup challenges since its nonconference game against North Carolina. The Wildcats, however, won that game, too.
Look for Baylor to go at Davis hard in the first half. They have the bodies and they’ll use them and try to lure Davis into early foul trouble. On defense, the Bears will try to use their length to force difficult shots in the lane. Look for Kentucky to challenge Baylor on both ends of the floor and exploit the Bears’ tendency to play timid early in physical games.
The journey: Baylor defeated South Dakota State, Colorado and Xavier to reach the Elite Eight. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky, Iowa State and Indiana to earn the opportunity to compete in the Final Four.
Monitor his progress: Perry Jones’ length, athleticism and talent make NBA scouts salivate. But the bulk of his career has been defined by potential, not production. This has to be the game in which Jones proves himself. He had just nine points combined in his team’s first two NCAA tournament games. The Bears will need him, however, against Kentucky. If he’s really a lottery pick, if he’s really worthy of that multimillion-dollar contract, then one would think that Jones has to showcase his abilities in this matchup.
Numbers to impress your friends: The Bears have reached the Elite Eight twice. But they didn’t beat a single-digit seed either time. In the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Bears beat Sam Houston State (14-seed), Old Dominion (11-seed) and Saint Mary’s (10-seed). This year, they beat South Dakota State (14-seed), Colorado (11-seed) and Xavier (10-seed). Davis has blocked five or more shots in 17 games this season.
Game’s most critical question: Will Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson’s shot selection disrupt Bears' offense?
The matchup: Acy versus Davis. Zeller drew quick fouls against Davis. Acy will attack Davis early, too.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Kentucky is playing. Seriously. The Wildcats have had a special season thus far. With that talent and swagger, they’re always entertaining. But a Baylor upset isn’t a ridiculous notion.
Kansas (2) vs. North Carolina (1), 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Things to know: Nine years ago, Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina.
And his stand against his former team in the Elite Eight is actually a secondary storyline in this matchup.
Ohio took North Carolina to overtime Friday in a fascinating Sweet 16 matchup. The Tar Heels didn’t look like the same team without starting point guard Kendall Marshall.
The sophomore suffered a wrist injury that kept him out of that game. And now, we’re all wondering if we’ll see a Willis Reed-like appearance on Sunday.
Marshall told reporters that he wouldn’t have played if the game had been held Saturday. But he did go through practice. Will he play?
Well, Marshall also told reporters that “I could be out there playing” when asked if the Kansas matchup is a possibility.
Instead of chatter about Williams facing Kansas, the main intrigue surrounds Marshall. He’s such a crucial player for the Tar Heels and that was evident as the Tar Heels struggled with Ohio.
The Jayhawks haven’t been flawless, either. They beat both Purdue in the round of 32 and NC State in the Sweet 16 by three points.
But they’re here. And they definitely have the talent to beat the Tar Heels, especially if Marshall can’t go.
Jeff Withey (10 blocks against the Wolfpack) and Thomas Robinson (18 points and 15 rebounds against NC State) have comprised one of the nation’s top frontcourts. Plus, the Jayhawks are fourth on Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings.
But the Tar Heels are still a potent force even without Marshall. Tyler Zeller recorded 20 points and 22 rebounds against Ohio. Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes could carry the Tar Heels to New Orleans. Reggie Bullock played a star role against Ohio with 17 points.
Stilman White, Marshall’s replacement, only scored two points but he played above-average defense.
With or without Marshall, this should be a great game. If he plays, it might be a classic.
Look for Tyshawn Taylor to challenge White early on both ends of the floor. Look for the Tar Heels to minimize White’s role and get the ball to Zeller and Henson early in the shot clock so they can attack and try to draw first-half fouls against Withey and Robinson. This is all assuming Marshall remains sidelined.
The journey: Kansas beat Detroit, Purdue and NC State to reach the Elite Eight. North Carolina defeated Vermont, Creighton and Ohio.
Monitor his progress: White doesn’t have to replace Marshall’s offensive production. He can’t. But his defense will be crucial again, especially with the explosive Taylor running the show for the Jayhawks.
Numbers to impress your friends: Taylor has committed 10 turnovers in the NCAA tournament (three games). Prior to playing 32 minutes against Ohio, White registered double-digit minutes just once during the regular season (11 minutes against Nicholls State Dec. 19).
Game’s most critical question: If Marshall plays, will he be healthy enough to make an impact?
The matchup: Withey versus Zeller. The tournament’s top interior defender (not named Davis) against one of the nation’s top big men.
Don’t touch that remote because ... Zeller has been a beast. Marshall might play. Withey nearly broke an NCAA tournament record for blocked shots against NC State. Robinson is a star. Need any more reasons?