Sunday, March 26, 2006

Elite 8 Sunday Matchups (AP)

11 George Mason vs 1 Connecticut
Connecticut's first national championship run seven years ago included a victory over a mid-major in the regional final. If the top-seeded Huskies (30-3) are to reach their third Final Four, they`ll have to dispose of another mid-major in surprising George Mason (26-7) on Sunday.

Connecticut earned its first national championship in 1999, surviving a tense regional final in which it beat Gonzaga 67-62 to reach the Final Four. The Huskies won their second national title two years ago.

Coach Jim Calhoun isn't thrilled about playing the 11th-seeded Patriots for the first time at the Verizon Center, just a short drive from George Mason`s campus.

"It's going to be nice playing an away game, too, I'm looking forward to that," he said sarcastically. "I think that part of the pod system is really working out to protect the (No. 1 seeds), right? I believe it is."

The Huskies advanced to this game with a thrilling 98-92 overtime victory over Washington on Friday. Connecticut rallied from an 11-point deficit and forced overtime on Rashad Anderson's 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left in regulation. Anderson made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points off the bench for the Huskies, who trailed 78-72 with 1:16 to go in the second half and overcame a season-high 26 turnovers.

The senior guard, who battled a life-threatening illness last season brought on by complications from a skin infection, said he didn't get to sleep until 5:30 in the morning with the draining game still on his mind.

"I'm just happy to still be here," Anderson said. "This feeling is the best feeling ever in my life going back to what I went through last year, not knowing if I was ever going to get back to this point. It`s truly a blessing to still be here."

Marcus Williams also came up big for UConn with a career-high 26 points and eight assists to overcome his season high-tying seven turnovers. Williams is averaging 22.3 points in the NCAA tournament, marking the first time in his career he has scored at least 20 points in three straight games.

The Huskies - one of the favorites to win the national title - have survived difficult games in each round of the tournament, including a rally from 12 points down in the second half of a 72-59 first-round win over 16th-seeded Albany.

The unheralded Patriots scored the game's first nine points and never looked back in a 63-55 victory over Wichita State on Friday. Folarin Campbell continued his hot shooting and scored 16 points for the Patriots, who hadn't won an NCAA tournament game in three appearances until this year.

Campbell failed to score in double digits in the Patriots' four games before the tournament, but is averaging 17.3 points on 68 percent shooting in three NCAA contests.

He's one of five players who average in double figures for George Mason. Undersized 6-foot-7 center Jai Lewis leads the way with 13.5 points per game and Tony Skinn - suspended for the NCAA opener for punching a Hofstra player in the groin in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament - adds 12.7 per game.

The winner will meet Villanova or Florida on Saturday in Indianapolis.

Prediction: UCONN will probably win in a close game. George Mason is very talented but UCONN has the experience. Gregg Doyel, of CBS, thinks GM has no chance and has an interesting article as well about this matchup. I think you should take the points with George Mason though.

3 Florida Gators vs 1 Villanova Wildcats
This should be one of the closer matchups thus far in the tournament.

Why Florida might win:

This is not your big brother’s Florida Gators. Ever since UF lost to Michigan State in the 2000 championship game, Florida has tripped over its feet in the Big Dance. Last year, it was none other than the Villanova Wildcats that bumped the Gators in the second round of tourney and squandered some high hopes.

But now with a stable crew of starters that includes an few NBA prospects in Taurean Green and Joakim Noah, this team has all the pieces in place to make a run to the Final.

More importantly, Florida showed it can still win when the game doesn’t go its way. In Friday’s regional semi, Georgetown managed to grind the pace to a crawl and force Florida away from its preferred high-test running speed. But the Gators locked down on defense and got in the face of the Georgetown shooters, holding them to less than 40 percent from the field.

There’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to do the same thing against Villanova’s sharp-shooting guard-oriented offense. Florida hasn’t allowed many uncontested shots in the Tournament. No team has made more than 39 percent of its field goals against the Gators.

Why Villanova might win:

Jay Wright proved he can coach with the best of them. Without a timeout in the dying seconds of a game that was starting to look like a crushing loss for the No. 1 seed, Wright didn’t even need to tell his guys which play to run. They’d practiced it all year, in preparation for a situation like this.

A coach can’t win a game, but he put his players in a position to win and that’s exactly what happened. Even in a game in which the Wildcats’ biggest weapon – the 3-point shot – was taken away by a suffocating Boston College defense, Wright’s players showed the toughness to fight back and force overtime. That attitude might be called on again on Sunday versus a bigger, defensively tight Florida team.

“I know no one believes us, but these are the types of games that we like,” Villanova guard Randy Foye said. “Just grind it out, play defense and rebound.”

It’s a good sign that Villanova was able to shoot 21 percent from beyond the arc and still win a tough game. Nobody has managed to make 3-pointers with any regularity against Florida throughout the Tournament.

Prediction: This is a tough one to try and predict, but I think in the end Villanova will pull off the victory. I wouldn't be suprised to see an overtime or the game decided by less than 5 points. Lay the points on Villanova

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