By Steve Silverman
Friday, March 9
Clemson (23-8, 11-7) vs. No. 1 Virginia (29-2, 17-1), 7 p.m. ET
Barclays Center, Brooklyn
Clemson outlasted Boston College in Thursday’s quarterfinal of the ACC Tournament and the Tigers’ reward for not letting that game get away is a meeting with the No. 1 team in the nation. Virginia was pushed had by Louisville well into the second half, but the Cavaliers tightened up down the stretch and put the game away.
Clemson is led by guard Marcquise Reed, who is averaging 16.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per night. However, if the Tigers have any hope of pulling off the upset and advancing to the ACC Conference tournament final, they are going to need a lot more than Reed. Gabe DeVoe had 25 points in the victory over the Eagles, while Shelton Mitchell had 21, and Clemson will need both to produce in this game.
Virginia has always been a powerful defensive team, and they have become even better this year. Head coach Tony Bennett’s team would not be rolling out victory after victory if it was just one dimensional. The Cavaliers get the job done on offense by wearing opponents down, and Kyle Guy, Devon Hall and Ty Jerome are all averaging in double figures.
Expect Clemson to push hard in this game, but Virginia is too strong and will find a way to take charge in the final 10 minutes and win.
Kansas State (22-10, 10-8) vs. No. 9 Kansas (25-7, 13-5), 7 p.m. ET
Sprint Center, Kansas City
Unranked Kansas State meetin Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas sounds like a mismatch, but it is anything but. Bill Self’s Jayhawks are clearly going to the tournament and the head coach does not want to see his team wear out in the conference tournament.
On the other hand, the Wildcats have a strong team but head coach Bruce Weber knows his team must continue to win games if it wants to assure itself a berth in the tournament. Additionally, Kansas State would love to beat its in-state rivals and advance to the Big 12 championship.
The Wildcats earned their spot in the semifinals with a 66-64 overtime victory against TCU, while the Jayhawks broke open a close game against Oklahoma State and came away with an 82-68 triumph.
Kansas State has a solid 1-2 punch with forward Dean Wade and guard Barry Brown leading the attack. Wade is averaging 16.7 points and 6.4 rebounds, while Brown is scoring 16.6 points per night.
Big 12 player of the year Devonte Graham is averaging 17.6 points and 7.2 assists per game, while Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is averaging 15.2 points per night. The Jayhawks also have Udoka Azubuike averaging 13.7 points and shooting a remarkable 77.4 percent from the floor.
Don’t be surprised if Kansas State comes through with the upset here.
Providence (20-12, 10-8) vs. No. 3 Xavier (28-4, 15-3), 6:30 p.m. ET, FS1
Madison Square Garden, New York City
The Providence Friars are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, and the Ed Cooley’s team came up with an overtime win against Creighton in the Big East tournament. Xavier is a likely No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, but don’t think for a second that the Musketeers are going to let up.
Senior forward Rodney Bullock is a solid performer who leads the Friars with 14.1 points per night, and he is joined by Alpha Diallo who is scoring 12.3 points and commanding a team-high 6.4 rebounds per game.
The two teams split the regular-season series, as Providence won the first matchup 81-72 at home, but they dropped an 84-74 decision at the end of February.
Trevon Bluiett leads Xavier with an average of 19.4 points per night, while J.P. Macura is averaging 12.4 points and has proven he can score in the clutch.
Look for this game to come down to the final possession, and the belief here is that the feisty Friars will come up with the upset.
UCLA (21-10, 11-7) vs. No. 15 Arizona (25-7, 14-4), 9 p.m. ET, PAC-12
T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
The Bruins are coming off a solid win over Stanford, while Arizona pounded Colorado in Pac-12 quarterfinal matchups.
These two teams will meet for the right to play in the Pac-12 title game, but it may mean more to the Bruins than it does their opponents. UCLA is clearly on the NCAA tournament bubble, and they need as many wins as they can get if they want to remove all doubt.
The Bruins are leaning on leading scorer Aaron Holiday, who scored 34 points and had eight assists against the Cardinal. Holliday is averaging 20.1 points and 5.8 assists per night. Kris Wilkes is doing a fine job in support, averaging 14.1 points per night.
The Wildcats have one of the most powerful players in the nation in DeAndre Ayton, who is averaging 19.9 points per night and coming down with 11.4 rebounds per night. Allonzo Trier is scoring 18.9 points and connecting on 52.3 percent of his shots from the field.
The motivated Bruins will advance to the Pac-12 title game.