Elite 8 Preview: Gonzaga to Upset Duke, Louisville over MSU

AP Photo
The Associated Press

Duke is one of only six teams with three top 100 players at www.valueaddbasketball.com, and 83% of those teams made the Elite 8. Gonzaga is one of the less than 1% of teams without three top 100 players to make the Elite 8, but we are picking their four NBA prospects to expose Duke’s inside defense and pull the upset.

We also pick Rick Pitino’s Louisville to beat Tom Izzo’s Michigan State in the battle of coaching legends.

We rarely pick against a team with three Top 100 players, since Al McGuire’s quote years ago that “you need 3 1/2 stars to win a championship” has held true the vast majority of the time. If you are one of the millions who filled out a bracket and have fewer than the 870 points or 44 correct picks so far you may want to take a closer look at Value Add before the tournament next year. If you are one of the few with a better bracket, let us know how you did it—we are always evaluating the best approaches.

Here are the six teams that have three top 100 players based on the database:

Team Highest VA 2nd Value Add 3rd Value Add
Arizona 17 McConnell 74 Hollis-Jefferson 77 Johnson
Baylor 44 Gathers 52 O’Neale 85 Prince
Duke 22 Okafor 24 Cook 32 Jones
Kentucky 2 Towns 8 Cauley-Stein 40 Harrison
Notre Dame 7 Grant 53 Jackson 94 Connaughton
Wisconsin 3 Kaminsky 31 Hayes 69 Dekker

Baylor, the weakest of the six with no one player in the top 40, was stunned by Georgia State and a fantastic shot by RJ Hunter, who Value Add calculated as the surprise 5th-best player in the country in a Fox Sports feature before the season.

A separate posts evaluates the four of these six teams that play each other in the Elite 8, with our pick for Wisconsin to beat Arizona and Kentucky to beat Notre Dame.

Gonzaga over Duke (5:05 p.m. Sunday): So why did we break with this rule when we filled out our brackets two weeks ago and predict Duke would make it this far and then lose to Gonzaga?

It is just a matter of match-ups, and the little secret all season has been that Jahlil Okafor and his Duke teammates have been a weak defensive team inside all season. Friday, Utah grabbed 18 offensive rebounds (three more than they had in a game all season), Duke allowed 62 points in the paint in one game against UNC this year (the most the Tar Heels had scored in decades in a game), and Duke ranks not in the top 100 in defensive 2-point percentage, or defensive rebounding. Gonzaga is #1.

Kevin Pangos has been one of the best point guards in the country all four seasons. In the tournament he has 11 assists and 2 turnovers (half the turnovers Okafor had playing center Friday), and in the last 12 games he is better than 4-to-1 (62 assists, 15 turnovers). He is passing to four NBA prospects that are 6-foot-1o or better in Breitbart Sports All-American Kyle Wiltjer (47 points on 24 shots last weekend), Przemek Karnowski (18 points and 11 rebounds vs. UCLA Friday), and Domantas Sabonis (in three tournament games averaging 9.3 rebounds and has hit 15 of 23 shots.

Duke joins Gonzaga as two of only five teams with four NBA prospects (at least a 20% chance of making the NBA on www.valueaddbasketball.com), so it is very evenly matched despite Duke entering as the favorite. While we do not believe Okafor should be the Player of the Year due to high turnovers and poor free throws and defense, he is the top NBA prospect and can dominate entire games on the offensive end. With Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones harrassing Pangos, and Justise Winslow as a fourth top-100 player, this could go either way and in fact the president has picked Duke—but we believe the match-up results in a very close Gonzaga upset.

Louisville over Michigan State (2:20 pm Sunday). We noted in early March that Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo were two of a select few coaches who have gone to the Final Four without some combination of the big three Value Add players. Since the first year covered by Value Add, there is an average of one surprise team per Final Four each year. If Izzo does it this year it will be his fourth time (most of any coach) and if Pitino does it that will make two for him. So give Izzo a slight edge, but when two great coaches go against each other then you look again at the talent.

While they may not have the three big stars, Louisville is the only team besides Kentucky to have two Breitbart Sports All-Americans in guard Terry Rozier and center Montrezl Harrell, who played Kentucky to a 52-52 tie last year before fouling out. We just don’t see the Spartans matching those two, and, despite Izzo’s genius, see Louisville as a clear favorite. Then again, we said at the outset of the year that if Izzo could take this team to the Elite 8 he was the clear Coach of the Year—and he did it.

There are seven players in the top 5% at Value Add (top 200) with Louisville having Wayne Blackshear (148th) and Chris Jones (200th) in addition to Rozier and Harrell. Michigan State counters with Denzel Valentine (99th), Travis Trice (117th) and Branden Dawson (133rd). So a lot of talent competes on the court—just not quite at the elite level of the other four Elite 8 games.