Two teams will punch their tickets to the men’s Final Four after Saturday’s Elite Eight games. Here’s a look at the matchups and a pick for each.
6:09 p.m., TBS
As if you needed any more evidence that the Owls were underseeded by the selection committee — even more than the fact that FAU is only the fifth No. 9 seed to make the Elite Eight since 1985 — consider the fact that they come into this matchup with a better ranking than the higher-seeded Wildcats in terms of Ken Pomeroy’s metrics (as of Friday, FAU was 17th and Kansas State was 21st).
I’m going to take a swing on the underdog here. The Owls take a high percentage of three-point attempts, and though their accuracy on long-range shots has dipped considerably in three NCAA tournament games (29.1 percent vs. a season average of 36.5 percent), FAU has proven adept at collecting offensive rebounds, which is a problem area for Kansas State’s defense (it ranks 248th nationally in offensive rebounding rate allowed).
Kansas State point guard Markquis Nowell has been a sensation in the NCAA tournament, where he has averaged a gaudy 14 assists per game (he notched an assist on exactly half of the Wildcats’ field goals in Thursday’s win over Michigan State, an improvement over his already-exceptional season assist rate of 42.4 percent). But Florida Atlantic’s defense allows an assist on only 34.7 percent of its opponents’ field goals, the second-best mark in the nation. In the Owls’ NCAA tournament opener, Memphis point guard Kendric Davis (No. 21 nationally in assists per game, No. 68 in assist rate) had only one assist, and the point guards they’ve played since also have failed to make much of an impact. If any team is going to slow Nowell, it’s going to be the Owls, who go nine deep and often play with four guards on the floor.
Pick: Florida Atlantic +2
In Las Vegas
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Connecticut (-2)
8:49 p.m., TBS
The Huskies continued their hot-shooting ways in Thursday’s Sweet 16 romp over Arkansas, making 9 of 20 three-point attempts. They’ve shot 44.8 percent from long range over three NCAA tournament games, a significant increase from their 36.4 percent season average. This could prove to be the decisive edge over a Bulldogs team whose opponents are hitting 35.2 percent of their three-pointers for the season (No. 257 nationally) and 37.3 percent in the NCAA tournament.
Though Gonzaga also shoots quite well from three-point range (38.3 percent, 10th nationally), the Bulldogs get a majority of their points (56.4 percent) from two-point shots, mainly of the Drew Timme variety. U-Conn. has proven adept at making teams beat them outside, allowing opponents to shoot only 45 percent on two-point field goals (14th in the nation). Even the Huskies’ one main weakness on defense — sending opponents to the free throw line, which they do at a fairly alarming clip — is negated somewhat by the fact that Gonzaga isn’t known for its foul-shooting prowess: The Bulldogs are shooting only 69.8 percent from the line this season and nearly gave away Thursday’s win over UCLA by making just 4 of 10 foul shots over the final six minutes of the game.
That’s the type of thing that can swing a close NCAA tournament game, and I’ll go with the Huskies here.
Pick: Connecticut -2