Auburn vs Virginia
This game will be about as much of a contrast of styles as you can have. Auburn really likes to get out and pressure teams to try and turn them over to get easy buckets and speed the game up, while Virginia of course plays its packline defense, trying to cut off driving lanes and rebound the ball while focusing less on trying to force turnovers.
While the pace these two teams prefer to play at is much different, they actually do take similar shots on offense and that is each team prefers to shoot the three ball.
Both teams are pretty evenly sized as well and really these two teams have a ton of similarities, besides the pace at which they prefer to play at.
It’s unlikely that Auburn will greatly be able to speed up Virginia and get them to play in a frantic game like they prefer, and Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said as much earlier this week, saying that they will probably have to win playing at Virginia’s pace.
While it’s logical to think that Virginia won’t try and get in a track meet with Auburn, Auburn is as good as anyone in college basketball at forcing turnovers and if they are able to do that they can get easy buckets and not have to face that stingy Virginia defense in the half-court.
The flip side of that though is that Virginia doesn’t turn the ball over very often, so seeing which team can win that battle will be really fun.
What will definitely hurt Auburn is that forward Chuma Okeke is out after tearing his ACL in the Sweet Sixteen game against North Carolina. Okeke was averaging 12 points and 6.8 rebounds and was probably the most important player to what Auburn was doing outside of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see either team get hot from three and be able to separate themselves, but with the amount of threes these two teams can take, I would expect runs from both of them, but you never know how a team will react to having to shoot in a football stadium.
Ultimately, the biggest keys to this game will be simple. The stars for both teams (Jared Harper and Bryce Brown for Auburn and Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter for Virginia) will need to play good, and then it’ll come down to Auburn trying to force turnovers and Virginia taking care of the ball and getting good looks.
Biggest x-factor for each team
Auburn: Samir Doughty
Virginia: Mamadi Diakite
Texas Tech vs Michigan State
This game is more of a game between similar styles than the first game is going to be. Both teams are very strong on the defensive end of the floor, nobody as good right now on that end of the floor as Texas Tech.
Michigan State however has been clicking on the offensive end of the floor and watching point guard Cassius Winston try and lead his offense against the most elite defense in the nation will be a very interesting battle to watch.
The Spartans lead the nation in assists and they are a top three-point shooting team and it’s a number of different guys that can do damage for the Spartans behind the arc. It is something that can really come at teams in waves, especially if guys like Kenny Goins or Aaron Henry get going, and even though Henry doesn’t usually shoot that many threes, he has shown the ability to get hot during the tournament.
Defensively though Texas Tech is the 10th best team in all of college basketball in defending the three-point line in terms of percentage allowed.
The length of Texas Tech has caused good offensive teams a lot of issues all season but even more so in the tournament and not only do they have length, but they are so connected as a team on that end of the floor that they don’t allow any driving lanes and at times it feels like they have seven or eight defenders on the floor.
Offensively the Red Raiders have been spotty at times this season, but they have a go-to scorer in Jarrett Culver, which makes things a lot easier for them to get a bucket when things bog down on that end of the floor. On top of that, they can shoot the three ball fairly well, lead by Davide Moretti, who is shooting 46.3% from distance this season.
The whole key to this game in my opinion is going to be how well Michigan State can score the ball against this elite Texas Tech defense. I feel like Texas Tech will finish somewhere around 65-73 points and it’ll come down to how much Michigan State can score, and a lot of that will likely be determined by how well they can shoot the three.
Biggest x-factor for each team
Texas Tech: Tariq Owens
Michigan State: Aaron Henry
Top Photo: Jean Pieri/Pioneer Press