Elite Eight Saturday: Your Commentary

    
March 26th, 2011
The first two tickets to the Final Four will be punched on Saturday, and one can make a good argument that three of the four teams slated to play were not supposed to have reached this point. But what's expected beforehand means nothing when compared to actual achievement, which is why Butler, Arizona and Connecticut all find themselves 40 minutes away from a trip to Houston. Two of the best players in the nation will be on display in the West final in Arizona's Derrick Williams and Connecticut's Kemba Walker. Both games look to be close on paper and will likely play out that way on the court.

Southeast Region Final
4:30 PM (8) Butler vs. (2) Florida (CBS)
Just one season after nearly winning the national title the Butler Bulldogs find themselves one win away from a return trip to the Final Four. Brad Stevens' team put on a show in the middle portion of Thursday's game, leading by as many as 19 points before hanging on to beat Wisconsin. While the game was played in the half court there is no denying that the Bulldogs controlled the tempo, something that Florida needs to be on the lookout of today. Florida pulled away from BYU in overtime on Thursday with Alex Tyus leading the way with 19 points and 17 rebounds. If the Gators can take advantage of their interior depth and not get sucked into trying to force tempo they can make their first trip to the Final Four since 2007. That's the key against Butler; many teams get frustrated when dealing with this experienced group and make bad decisions that lead to Matt Howard and company taking control of the game.

Florida does a good job of sharing the basketball when guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are playing well, and with a forward as versatile as Chandler Parsons the Gators like have the edge on the perimeter as well. Butler will counter with Shelvin Mack and Shawn Vanzant, two players who can get to the basket off the dribble and Mack is a good perimeter shooter as well. Florida shoots a better percentage from the field but a lot of the other offensive stats are close when comparing the two teams. Butler was able to shut down Wisconsin's Jon Leuer on Thursday night as he shot 1-for-12 from the field, which should serve as a warning for any player who is the focus of their defensive game plan.

Both teams average around 65 possessions/game but the Gators are the better offensive rebounding team, grabbing 37.6% of their misses. If Parsons, Tyus, Vernon Macklin and Patric Young can hit the glass and control that part of the game they'll be able to control much of the action. But that's easier said than done against Butler, who will likely have the services of forward Andrew Smith despite a nasty ankle sprain suffered on Thursday. If he can be effective Butler can hold their own on the boards, but that task becomes tougher should he struggle with the injury. Watch the rebounding battle and the composure of Boynton and Walker in the Florida backcourt. If these two take care of the basketball and make smart decisions with regards to their shots, there's no reason why they can't get to the Final Four. But this is much easier said than done against Butler, which will make for an intriguing game to watch.

West Region Final
7:05 PM (5) Arizona vs. (3) Connecticut (CBS)
NBA Draft gurus and general managers alike will enjoy this one as it features two of the best players in America in UConn guard Kemba Walker and Arizona power forward Derrick Williams. But as we saw on Thursday night both teams have capable players alongside their stars as well. Arizona blew Duke's doors off in the second half thanks to players other than Williams, who scored just seven points in the final 20 minutes (finished with 32). Solomon Hill and MoMo Jones were two of the key figures in that 19-2 run that wrestled away control of the game, and on the wings Arizona has depth with Hill, Kevin Parrom and Jamelle Horne all playing a role in their attack. The number of supplementary pieces is where the Wildcats enjoy an advantage going into tonight's game, but despite the relative lack of depth the Huskies are no slouch either.

Jeremy Lamb scored 24 points in UConn's win over San Diego State, knocking down nine of eleven shots and possessing an array of skills that look more and more like Husky great Richard Hamilton by the game. Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi will also figure heavily into what the Huskies do, and they're going to need their big men to avoid foul trouble when it comes to dealing with Williams. But fouls weren't this issues for Duke so much as the fact that they had no one to guard the sophomore, a fact many teams have found out throughout the course of the season. The key for Connecticut will be to not allow the other Wildcats to get rolling; Sean Miller's team can be a frightening sight when that happens.

What Williams and Jesse Perry will need to do is keep UConn off the offensive glass, something the Wildcats have done a good job of all season long. Opponents average just 9.8 offensive rebounds per game and UConn comes into the contest averaging 14.1, grabbing 39% of their missed shots. But back to the stars, who will determine this close contest come crunch time. Both Walker and Williams have seen a variety of defenders and defenses throughout the course of the season so there should be few surprises there. Could the key to winning lie in how the two teams attack the stars on the other end of the floor. Tire either one out, maybe even get a quick foul or two and go from there. Neither team was expected to sit just 40 minutes away from the FInal Four a month ago but none of that matters now.