On Monday night, we filed half of the Final Four. #1 seed Baylor and #2 Houston both handled their matchups to advance to Saturday night and face one another. Tonight, we will see the rest of the field filled as #1 Gonzaga takes on #6 USC and #1 Michigan takes on #11 UCLA in the second half of the Elite Eight.
#1 Gonzaga vs. #6 USC
— USC Men's Basketball (@USC_Hoops) March 30, 2021
Gonzaga has looked every part of the unbeatable monolith that they’ve been built up to be this season. In the Sweet Sixteen, Gonzaga outclassed Creighton in every possible way. Creighton came into the game as hot as any team remaining in the field as it relates to shooting the three. The Zags spent their evening frustrating the Blue Jays into a 5-23 shooting night. Not a good way to try beating Gonzaga. Offensively, Drew Timme starred in the paint while Andrew Nembhard starred from the outside. What Gonzaga showed, once again, was their ability to take a teams strength away defensively while imposing their will offensively. The Zags have cruised into the Elite Eight and have their eyes set on the Final Four and maybe more.
USC poses a rather unique challenge for Gonzaga. After decimating Kansas in the second round, many wondered how the Trojans would follow up that performance against Oregon. What followed was a zone that made the entire night miserable for the Ducks. Oregon shot 38% from the field and 24% from three in a performance that highlighted USC’s length and the problems it causes. Tonight, that zone will be paramount as the offensive versatility of the Zags will cause major issues for the Trojans in man to man. To pull off what would be one of the great upsets of all time, USC’s going to need a few weird things to happen in the Elite Eight. The Trojans just need to be prepared to take advantage of those opportunities.
Gonzaga has the zone busters needed to play a team like USC out of its zone. All of the Zags’ starting five shoots the ball well. To get USC out of this zone and into a more favorable matchup, they need to hit threes early and often. Jalen Suggs’ ability to penetrate and find shooters will also be important in getting USC to move to man to man quicker. For USC, the key is remaining active and disruptive defensively. If the Trojans can force Gonzaga to take (and miss) a lot of long threes as well as disrupt their offensive flow, they stand a chance. Offensively, the Trojans have a rare advantage in the frontcourt with the Mobley brothers against Kispert and Timme. They, along with Tahj Eaddy will have to pace scoring for USC. Let’s be real, USC has to play a nearly perfect game to beat Gonzaga.
#1 Michigan vs. #11 UCLA
The madness continues with the ELITE 8 TONIGHT
— Michigan Men's Basketball (@umichbball) March 30, 2021
When Michigan faced off against fourth-seeded Florida State on Sunday, many pegged it as the nightmare matchup for the Wolverines. Michigan responded by throttling the Seminoles. Throughout the course of the game, it looked like Florida State had no plan offensively while Michigan got just about whatever they wanted offensively. But that’s just Michigan’s game. Entering the Elite Eight, they’re among the most disciplined squads in America. They play tough defense and, regardless of what your defense is, they run THEIR offense, not the one you want. The emergence of Brandon Johns hasn’t hurt either. Because of the injury to Isaiah Livers, Johns has been thrust into the starting lineup. He’s responded by playing really high quality minutes, posting a season high 14 points against Florida State.
It’s been quite the ride for UCLA so far. After having to stage a massive comeback against Michigan State in the First Four, the Bruins once again had to pull off some magic against Alabama. The Bruins have made it this far on the back of great shotmaking, balanced scoring, and classic Mick Cronin defense. After Johnny Juzang had a rough day at the office against Alabama, Jaime Jaquez took over the scoring with some unbelievable shots down the stretch. The Bruins were able to hold one of the best shooting teams in America to just 25% from three. All of this, coupled with some really bad Alabama free throw shooting, brings them to the Elite Eight.
Michigan’s gameplan should be and will be simple: Execute offensively and play tough defense. If the Wolverines are able to continue to trust their system and culture, they should be in a great position to win this game. They have better talent than UCLA at just about every position. On the other hand, UCLA needs to continue to hit tough shots. That’s been the hallmark of the team thus far and it’ll have to continue to be to get past the Elite Eight. Defensively they have to muck up the game a bit. They can’t let Michigan get open drives to baskets and then kickouts to even more open threes. They have to be physical and make Michigan operate off schedule.
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