Previewing Saturday night’s Elite Eight matchups as Gonzaga, Texas Tech, Purdue and Virginia take aim at the Final Four.
60 of the 68 teams selected to participate in the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament have been eliminated, including the heavily favored North Carolina Tar Heels, the first No. 1 seed to fall, who got beaten by Auburn as if they’d stolen their momma’s rent money.
For some, the Elite Eight is the best pure weekend on the college basketball calendar. Here’s a quick peek at what to expect from the two games on Saturday’s slate.
Gonzaga vs Texas Tech
The Red Raiders may be a surprise to many, but if you’ve been paying attention to what head coach Chris Beard has been cooking up the past couple of seasons, you already know that they’ve got a legitimate shot to win the whole shebang.
Texas Tech boasts the most vicious defense in the country, which makes this matchup all the more delicious and nutritious, because Gonzaga walks in with the nation’s most lethal and efficient offense.
The Bulldogs average close to 90 points per game while hitting close to 53% of their shots. And they’re delightful to watch in transition. If you have the perception that Gonzaga is simply great at playing a slow pace and wearing their opponent out with great ball movement and skilled players all over the court, you’d be correct.
But this squad will also run the ball down your throat in transition, and they’ve got some world class athletes.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has now taken three squads to the Elite Eight over the past five seasons, including the 2017 squad that advanced to the national championship game. And many believe that this is the best team he’s ever had.
People try to front on the Bulldogs conference schedule, but they loaded up the non-conference schedule with the likes of Tennessee, North Carolina and Duke, who they beat with a healthy Zion Williamson in the mix.
This game will be a fascinating study in contrasting styles because the Red Raiders defense is knocking cats out like Mike Tyson in the ’80s. They made No. 2 seed Michigan, an excellent team, look worse than an Adam Sandler movie when they held them to a mere 44 points in the Sweet 16.
The Wolverines found themselves in a vice-like headlock all game while hitting just 32.7 percent of their shots, including an abysmal 1-for-19 from beyond the the three-point line.
When Gonzaga has the ball in the half-court, pay attention to how strong, fast and athletic Texas Tech is and how they stay in front of people, rarely giving up easy shots.
But don’t get lulled for one second into believing that Gonzaga’s a slouch on defense, because they can guard the ball with the best of them. And despite Texas Tech’s NBA-level of athleticism, they’re gonna have some trouble dealing with the size of and skills of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie on both ends of the floor.
Hachimura, who will be a top-five pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, averages 19.6 points per game and Clarke, who posts 16.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per, has been a shot-blocking machine with 13 swats thus far in Gonzaga’s three NCAA Tournament games. His eye-opening performances has him moving up NBA Draft boards with the swiftness.
Gonzaga’s big boys give out some serious work. And their backcourt is a joy to behold, with Zach Norvell Jr bringing that Chicago boogie and flair to the tune of 15.1 points per game while point guard Josh Perkins hands out more assists than welfare.
This game will be flooded with NBA talent, as Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, only a sophomore, is a certified lottery pick in his own right. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has an excellent all around floor game, with the size, athleticism and skills to play both shooting guard and small forward at the next level.
His offensive repertoire is varied and multi-dimensional, and he’s a nightmare for opposing defenders in one-on-one situations. With great footwork and a mean arsenal of hesitation dribbles, he can get to rim against anyone. And his defensive effort and instincts are top notch.
Texas Tech lost to the eventual national champions, Villanova, in last year’s Elite Eight. This year, they’re looking to take that next step. Gonzaga, many feel, is the best team remaining in this year’s tournament.
This one should be a doozy!
Purdue vs Virginia
The last time Virginia was in the Final Four in 1984, Eddie Murphy was the hottest actor/comedian in America after having crushed it as Billy Ray Valentine in “Trading Places”, and Cheryl Lynn had the streets on fire with that “Encore” joint.
The Cavaliers haven’t been back since, and they’ll be looking to remedy that against Purdue.
The last time Purdue was in the Final Four in 1980, Murphy was a relative unknown making his television debut on Saturday Night Live while Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” album took over the music industry.
I say all that to say, as Rakim had once said, it’s been a long time since both of these programs were this close to gunning for a national title.
For one of these squads, a long drought will come to end on Saturday night. The No. 1 seed Cavaliers got here by squeaking by Oregon, 53-49 in the Sweet Sixteen while Purdue advanced at the expense of Tennessee in overtime, 99-94, in one of the tournament’s most exciting games.
This is the farthest that the Boilermakers have advanced in the tournament over the last 18 years, thanks in large part to the heroic and unexpected performance of Ryan Cline, who scorched for 27 points against Tennessee while knocking down seven three-pointers.
But the man who makes the magic happen for Purdue is junior guard extraordinaire Carsen Edwards, perhaps the most electrifying scoring machine in all of college basketball.
Edwards pumped in 29 in the win against the Volunteers after having scored a career high 42 points while banging in nine 3-pointers when Purdue demolished defending national champion Villanova in the second round last weekend. He’s averaging a robust 32.3 points during this year’s tournament.
When you factor in the 30 he dropped in last year’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Texas Tech, he’s the first player to score 25 or more points in four consecutive NCAA Tournament contests since another March Madness assassin named Stephen Curry, whose postseason runs with Davidson in 2007 and 2008 were epic. That’s some pretty heady company to keep.
Virginia’s defense is no joke and should be hyped for the challenge after holding their first three NCAA Tournament opponents to an average of 52 points. With Purdue coming into this game averaging 93 points in its last two games, we should be in a for a treat.
The Cavaliers may not possess a singular player like Edwards that can spontaneously combust and incinerate an opposing team single-handedly, but their balance is superb. They had four players score in double-digits in their Sweet 16 win over Oregon.
Purdue will have its hands full against the Cavs thanks to Virginia’s three-pronged attack of sharpshooter Kyle Guy, distributor Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter in the post.
Jerome, who led the ACC in assists, runs the show and opens up the floor for others. He played an exceptional all around game 13 points, six rebounds and six assists against Oregon.
Guy stretches the defense as a marksman from deep and Hunter can go get his own offense going any time he wants. UVA doesn’t run a lot of complicated offensive sets, but they stuff they run is done so at optimal and lethal efficiency.
Fans of college basketball will be in for a treat on Saturday night as two teams will punch the first tickets to this year’s Final Four.