It’s the blue bloods and a new blood in Sunday’s Elite Eight games, in a nice little mix that makes the NCAA tournament so compelling. Basketball-rich Villanova, Duke and Kansas are here with a combined 34 Final Four appearances and 10 national titles. But so is upstart Texas Tech, making school history with its first-ever Elite Eight game.
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 1 Villanova
2:20 p.m., CBS, East Region
Villanova is playing like the best team in the nation, with a do-it-all offense and shutdown defense fueling its run to the Elite Eight. What makes the Wildcats so good is not only that balance, but their dynamic starting five. Every single player is a threat to take over a game. Add in Donte DiVincenzo and Villanova has a top six that’s awfully tough to beat. Texas Tech will provide another tough defensive test for Villanova. The Red Raiders have gotten this far on the strength of their stellar defense. Nobody has scored more than 66 points on them in three NCAA tournament games.
If Texas Tech wins it will be because: Its aforementioned defense comes through again. In three tournament games, teams are shooting 41 percent and averaging 63.7 points per game — right around the average that ranked the Red Raiders in the top 15 in the nation in scoring defense. Their 3-point defense is going to have to be particularly on point, considering how well Villanova has been shooting from long range. And Keenan Evans needs to be lights out.
If Texas Tech loses it will be because: The Red Raiders can’t keep up with Villanova on the scoreboard. Villanova found a way to break through against West Virginia’s defense in the Sweet 16, going on a 22-6 run midway through the second half to blow the game open. Chances are, Villanova will make a big run against Texas Tech at some point in the game. The question is whether Texas Tech has enough to score at the same clip.
Seth Greenberg says the marquee matchup in Texas Tech-Villanova will be Keenan Evans against Jalen Brunson.
If Villanova wins it will be because: Its offense comes through again. Villanova has scored a tournament-high 258 points in three games, including 120 points on 3-pointers alone. So nearly half its scoring has come from beyond the arc. And it’s not just one player leading the way. Jalen Brunson was phenomenal in sparking the run against West Virginia. But Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are dynamic in their own right and that’s what makes Villanova so difficult to guard.
If Villanova loses it will be because: Texas Tech finds a way to slow down the offense. That’s obviously the No. 1 thing. But Villanova players will also tell you they set the tone for their offense with their defensive intensity, and that helps feed many of their scoring blitzes. So watch for the way Villanova plays defense, especially in the early going. If the Wildcats slow down there, that could have a direct impact on the offense.
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 1 Kansas
5:05 p.m., CBS, Midwest Region
Given the way Kansas and Duke have played in the tournament, it feels as if this should be a Final Four matchup. The storylines leading up to it are enough to fill an entire notebook: It’s Coach K vs. Bill Self among the nation’s best coaches, Devonte’ Graham vs. Marvin Bagley III among the nation’s best players, the more veteran Jayhawks vs. the freshmen-laden Blue Devils. You couldn’t ask for a better matchup to set the stage for San Antonio.
If Duke wins it will be because: Its future NBA stars set the tone. It is safe to say the Blue Devils have been on a roller-coaster ride this season because they are so young, struggling through growing pains early while switching up their defense to a zone to better suit their talent level. But now they are rolling, playing with confidence and determination. Bagley is just the sixth freshman to score at least 20 points in each of his first three NCAA tournament games, and he’s been a force inside with 11 dunks. Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval can’t be overlooked, either.
If Duke loses it will be because: Its defense falters against a varied Kansas offense. Kansas is the best offensive team Duke has faced to this point in the tournament, and that’s going to provide a challenge for the Blue Devils, most especially at the guard position. But center Udoka Azubuike has had a huge inside presence as well, and the matchup between him, Bagley and Carter will be one to watch.
If Kansas wins it will be because: Graham and Malik Newman take over the game. There’s a reason Graham is a player of the year front-runner. Not only does he score, he is excellent at distributing the ball to teammates, and he’s not careless with the basketball. Plus, he’s a veteran player, and that experience can be a huge advantage in a game as big as this. Newman has been terrific in March, leading the Jayhawks in scoring in both the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
If Kansas loses it will be because: The Jayhawks have been somewhat spotty on defense, allowing a 25-point scorer in consecutive games, and nearly blowing a 20-point lead against Clemson in the Sweet 16. Kansas can’t afford to have lapses like that against a team as talented as Duke. Because if it does, the Jayhawks will be in serious trouble.