#1 – Kentucky
Well, the West Virginia Mountaineers talked the talk, but it was the Wildcats who walked the walk – or more like trampled. They got out to an 18-2 lead and never trailed as they cruised to a 78-39 victory. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Wildcats outclass and overwhelm their opponent, but this is the biggest stage that they’ve done so on. There was so much pre-game talk by West Virginia, but all that did was add more fuel to the Wildcats’ fire. They let the Mountaineers grab some headlines prior, then thoroughly dismantled them from the tip. The Wildcats held them to 24 percent shooting from the field and 13 percent from deep. Meanwhile, they shot 48 percent from the field, made seven more free throws than the Mountaineers attempted and were a plus 12 on the glass. Thursday night was Trey Lyles’ night to lead the way offensively. He flirted with a double-double with 14 points and seven rebounds on a night in which Karl-Anthony Towns struggled with foul trouble. In the Elite Eight they’ll face off against Notre Dame, who looked stellar in their elimination of Wichita State. Containing Jerian Grant, who had 11 assists in the win, has to be at the top of the Wildcats’ to-do list in order to move on back to the Final Four. If they can keep him in check and outrebound them (ND was outboarded 36-32 by the Shockers), look for it to be another convincing W for the perfect Wildcats.
– Yannis Koutroupis
#3 – Notre Dame
In the wake of the passing of Coach Mike Brey’s mother, he said he found peace knowing that she lived such a full life. He fought and led his team not just to the Sweet Sixteen but through a solid Wichita State squad and into the Elite 8. With a trip to the final four on the line, it will take no less than a miracle of a game from each and every one of the coaches, players and Irish faithful in what can be called nothing less than a David vs. Goliath match up. They might not be playing at Hinkle field house and Pat Connaughton might not be Jimmy Chitwood, but this match up feels much like something out of a movie (Hoosiers anyone?). The good news for Notre Dame is that they grinded out their first two wins and against the Shockers, they finally got back to playing the beautiful style of spacing and passing that we had all grown accustomed too throughout the year. It will take a sublime shooting game from beyond the arc (9-19 vs WSU), a -10 turnover effort (10 vs WSU), a +15 assist effort (18 vs WSU) and a +55% field goal effort (55.6% vs WSU). They will need to space the floor for Jerian Grant and put Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein in high pick and roll situations where they pull one shot blocker from the basket and force the second into a rotation decision. The other side of the ball is a whole other animal. Can you play man to man and have a chance? That would take a whole of luck, meaning you would have to hope that Kentucky plays bad. I would like to see what Lute Olson built his Arizona foundation on: makes and misses. Changing defenses based on you offensive result (man on a miss, zone on a make). This can break the rhythm of the opposing team and help the Irish control the pace. We shall soon see if Mike Brey truly has the luck of the Irish.
– Cody Toppert
Yannis Koutroupis: Kentucky wins
Cody Toppert: Kentucky wins
Dan Barto: Kentucky wins
Cody Toppert is a former standout player at Cornell University (one of the top three-point shooters in Ivy League history), who played eight years professionally (NBA D-League, Spain, Italy, Germany) and now serves as the Director of Basketball Development at ELEV|8 Sports Institute (Ganon Baker Basketball Academy). He trains professional players (five 2015 NBA Draftees) and coaches prep schoolers for Ganon Baker’s nationally ranked prep school program. Toppert also serves as a contributing writer for FastModel Sports. You can follow Cody and ELEV|8 on social media @Topp33 and @E8hoops.
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