NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Preview: Duke, Michigan State, Auburn, and Kentucky Seek Final Four Spots Sunday
Posted on: March 31, 2019, 05:33h.
Last updated on: October 9, 2020, 08:48h.
The NCAA Tournament will fill out the remaining two slots for the Final Four on Sunday. One matchup will feature two blue blood programs, while the other features blue blood facing a conference rival better known for its football excellence.
Sunday’s first game features Kentucky, an eight-time national champion, squaring off against Auburn in the Midwest Region Final in Kansas City. Playing in their first Elite Eight since 1986, the Tigers are a win away from both their first Final Four and their first 30-win season.
The Wildcats, the second seed in the region, currently are a 4.5-point favorite at most sportsbooks.
In Washington, five-time champ Duke needs to get past Michigan State, itself a two-time NCAA winner, in the East Final. Oddsmakers consider Duke, the top seed in the region, a 2-point favorite over the Spartans.
Auburn-Kentucky tips off first, at 2:20 pm ET. Duke-Michigan State follows with a 5:05 tip. CBS will broadcast both games, and they will also be streamed online through NCAA.com’s March Madness Live.
Injury Hurts Auburn’s Chances
Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said Kentucky will be their most difficult challenge in the tournament, an that comes after his team beat top-seeded North Carolina 97-80 on Friday.
“They’re the most physical team in college basketball offensively and defensively,” he said. “It’s a tough matchup for us. It’s going to take our best effort, without question.”
Auburn will need that best effort without the services of Chuma Okeke, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Friday night. He scored 20 points and pulled down 11 rebounds against the Tar Heels before suffering the season-ending injury,
Kentucky, meanwhile, just got back its best player. P.J. Washington, who missed the first two rounds of the tournament with a severe left foot sprain, scored 16 points in the Wildcats 62-58 win over Houston on Friday night.
Okeke’s injury has affected the line in the game as Kentucky started off as a 2.5-point favorite.
For title odds, the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas has Kentucky at +1000, while Auburn is at +1400.
East Region Preview
The second-seeded Spartans come into Sunday after knocking off Louisiana State 80-63. Aaron Henry scored a career-best 20 points in the win.
On Sunday, they’ll face a battle-tested Duke squad that has two of the best freshmen players in the college basketball.
“We know that Duke is the number one overall seed,” coach Tom Izzo said Saturday. “And they’ve earned all their stuff, too, with the way that program has been, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) and the players. So hopefully it will be as good as a game as the billing.”
The Blue Devils came into the tournament as its overall top seed. However, Duke has been challenged in its last two games. Last weekend, Central Florida led by three points in the closing seconds before Duke freshmen duo took over.
Zion Williamson scored a layup to cut the deficit to one. He was fouled on the shot, but he missed the free throw. Teammate R.J. Barrett got the rebound and the putback to help Duke avoid the early exit.
Then, on Friday, Duke advanced past Virginia Tech 75-73 as the Hokies missed a layup that would have forced overtime on the game’s final play.
Even with the close wins, Duke remains the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament. The Westgate Superbook has them at +300. The Spartans are +800.
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