It feels like a long time since the Elite 8, doesn't it? Maybe it's just me.
Anyway, since I got the Final Four correct this year, I previewed and picked these games more than two weeks ago. You can read them here. Below I will try to add a little bit more beyond those previews, particularly since we're picking against the spread here. Saying that Kentucky is the favorite isn't enough... are you willing to give 9 points to get Kentucky?
Anyway, let's get to Sunday's games:
Sunday ATS: 1-1-0
Total through Elite Eight ATS: 29-33-2
2011 Tournament ATS: 40-26-1
2010 Tournament ATS: 35-25-3
Louisville (+9) over Kentucky: As I said earlier, I'm not sure exactly how much the early season meeting tells us about these two teams. Yes, Louisville kept the game very close in Lexington, but they did it against a Kentucky team with much less experience than it has now, and they also did it with Russ Smith playing the game of his life. That said, Kentucky has played a little bit better than they really are so far this NCAA Tournament. The media is overreacting and treating Kentucky like one of the all-time greats, when the reality is that both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate Ohio State of nearly identical quality (Sagarin has Ohio State the very narrow #1, Pomeroy has Kentucky the very narrow #1).
Of course, this Kentucky team is one of the two best teams in the country, so even if they come back down to reality here they are still the clear favorites to win the game. They're a better team than Louisville, no question. But one thing I noticed against both Baylor and Iowa State was that those two teams did a horrific job of getting back in transition. Kentucky had layup lines going in both games. Indiana and Western Kentucky (yes, Western Kentucky!) both did a better job of forcing Kentucky to score in the half court, where they're not nearly as effective. If Louisville tries to press often then Kentucky will get some fast breaks by attacking it, but I still think that the longer lay-off and the additional practice can only help the Cardinals. I expect Louisville to keep this game close. While I still expect them to lose the game, I'll take the points.
Ohio State (-2.5) over Kansas: Tyshawn Taylor, meet Aaron Craft. In the North Carolina game we saw both "Good" Tyshawn Taylor and "Bad" Tyshawn Taylor on display. No player in college basketball has a weirder combination of WOW! plays and boneheaded plays. But Ohio State's perimeter players are so incredibly aggressive, and if Taylor starts to struggle there really is no alternative for the Jayhawks. Elijah Johnson is the closest thing Kansas has to a second ball handler. In my view, the one place Kansas can have an advantage is in the paint. If Thomas Robinson can outplay Jared Sullinger, particularly if he can get Sullinger in early foul trouble, this game can shift. One of the biggest advantages Ohio State has in this game is rebounding, but if Sullinger is put on the bench then that completely shifts.
That said, I don't think Kansas can win this game unless Thomas Robinson clearly outplays Sullinger and Tyshawn Taylor holds himself to 5 or fewer turnovers. And as I have said many times (though very few people have been listening), Ohio State has a lot of depth. Thad Matta chooses to play effectively a 6-7 man rotation because he can - the college basketball season isn't as draining as the NBA season, and so why not give as many minutes as possible to your best players? But most national writers have interpreted that as Ohio State's bench players not being very good, and that's just not true. And much of the media was shocked (while I wasn't) when players like Amir Williams and Sam Thompson gave the Buckeyes a bunch of quality minutes against Syracuse when Sullinger was on the bench. So if the refs get foul happy again, I definitely trust Ohio State's bench more than the Kansas bench. So Ohio State is my pick to win, and I'm not going to sweat the 2.5 points.