Elite 8 Begins With Big East Matchup And Cinderella Story On Saturday

03/30/2013 01:29 pm ET
  • Jordan Schultz The Huffington Post Sports Columnist, The Schultz Report

The Elite Eight features lottery picks, blue bloods and fittingly, a Cinderella not quite ready to go home. Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams and Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas might be the two best players left in the field not named Trey Burke, yet neither is featured in my key matchups today.

Here are the two matchups to watch on Saturday.

Marquette's Davante Gardner vs. Syracuse Bigs

Naturally, Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams is a budding star at point guard, but the battle of the bigs will determine this game. Marquette's Davante Gardner is a load in the paint with surprisingly deft feet for such a big body, but the 'Cuse offers an extreme dose of length. Baye Keita and C.J. Fair are both awesome athletes and talented shot blockers, but Gardner got the best of them in late February. when the 6-foot-8 junior went 7-7 and scored a career-high 26 points.

Speaking of the Syracuse Orangemen -- who lost 74-71 in the teams' only meeting this season -- we turn to the vaunted 2-3 matchup zone, which stymied a super talented Indiana team and kept it to just 50 points, 30 below its season average. As a whole, Marquette's Golden Eagles aren't prolific from a distance, but if you don't at least make a couple early, that zone becomes awfully active.

Wichita State PG Malcolm Armstead vs. Ohio State PG Aaron Craft

Ohio State's Aaron Craft is the best on-ball defender in America alongside Indiana's Victor Oladipo, although he struggled to contain Arizona's Mark Lyons in the half-court. Wichita State's Malcolm Armstead is an elite playmaker whose somewhat awkward lefty game can be extremely tricky to defend.

Wichita State hasn't been to a Final Four since 1965 (its only appearance in program history), but has already defeated Pittsburgh and top seed Gonzaga. Ohio State meanwhile, has posted 11 consecutive victories and has a tremendous toughness about it that Craft fuels. One of the great things about the junior point guard is how well he contains dribble penetration, which is the key to Armstead's scoring ability, because he's such a special finisher in the lane. The Wichita State Shockers are a carbon copy of a classic Big Ten team because of how well they defend in the half-court and how physically they play, but Armstead has to have a 20-plus night in order to spring the upset.

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report.

YOU MAY LIKE

CONVERSATIONS