Previewing Friday’s NCAA Tournament Regional semifinals
Baylor (29-7) vs. Xavier (23-12)
Xavier’s NCAA tournament has been as strange as its regular season. The Musketeers have fallen behind in both games (by 15 vs. Lehigh) but managed to prevail. They better not fall behind in this game, because it will be more difficult to catch up. Much depends on the Musketeers’ star guard Tu Holloway, who ranges from All-American to Not Interested. If he’s fully engaged for 40 minutes, there’s no reason Xavier can’t win. They have the talent to keep up with Baylor. Baylor has not played well in beating South Dakota State and Colorado, but the Bears were able to advance. Their star player, Perry Jones III, ticketed for the NBA lottery, has not played like a lottery pick. He needs to pick up his game. Overall, this looks like a standoff near the basket. On the perimeter, it remains to be seen. Baylor’s point guard, Pierre Jackson, will have the challenge of outplaying Holloway. It could be the key to the game.
Kentucky (34-2) vs. Indiana (27-8)
Kentucky was briefly challenged by Iowa State in the round of 32, but then the Wildcats squashed the Cyclones like a bug. The Wildcats have only lost two games, and one of them was to Indiana on a last-second shot by Christian Watford and they remember it. Indiana will be missing injured guard Verdell Jones. I don’t see this as being much of a contest unless the Hoosiers shoot an exceptional percentage and Cody Zeller outplays Anthony Davis in the post. Kentucky has clearly been the best team in the tournament so far.
North Carolina (31-5) vs. Ohio (20-7)
The unanswered question is whether point guard Kendall Marshall will be able to play after having wrist surgery on Monday. If Marshall were healthy and playing, this game is no contest. Without him, it becomes more interesting. Carolina has no replacement for him. Ohio has a great point guard in D.J. Cooper, who now will be free of Marshall’s sticky defense to do what he wants. That makes an upset possible. Carolina’s towering front line dwarfs Ohio; the Bobcats need to fight for every rebound. This could still end badly for Ohio if Carolina pounds the offensive boards. If Ohio doesn’t let that happen and Cooper has a big game, this could be close.
Kansas (29-6) vs. North Carolina State (24-12)
Kansas was only able to pass Purdue in the final minutes in the Round of 32. Until then, the Jayhawks were outplayed by the Boilermakers. N.C. State has flaws. The Wolfpack isn't always pretty to watch, but they’ve pulled off two upsets, beating San Diego State and Georgetown. Kansas’ performance against Purdue marks them as another possible upset victim. The Wolfpack needs to control the pace and make their free throws. Kansas needs to revert to its good form, put defensive pressure on NC State and play fast-break basketball. At their best, the Jayhawks will win easily.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell