Elite 8 Preview: Kansas vs. Virginia Commonwealth

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No. 1 Kansas (35-2) vs. No. 11 VCU (27-11)

Tip-off: 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS

At stake: Kansas is both poised and in great position to win their second national championship in four seasons, and they’re certainly the favorite to cut down the nets. If they are to lose, the stage is set for one of the most improbable Final Four match-ups in history, as VCU from the CAA would advance to play Butler from the Horizon League. The field continues to open up with each passing upset. If the Jayhawks are stunned, just who becomes the favorite to win in Houston?

Kansas wins if: They play basketball like they know how to play basketball. Let’s be honest, they probably don’t even have to play their best to win this afternoon, but they will have to ensure their perimeter defense is buttoned up. The Rams are shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc this tournament, and it’s accounted for 41 percent of their scoring. I expect the Jayhawks to get their own points, but it will be interesting to see how long VCU can match their output.

VCU wins if: Plain and simple, the Rams need to shoot above 50 percent from three-point land; 47 percent doesn’t cut it it. The three-point shot has been, for the most part, what’s carried them this far. And against a juggernaut like Kansas it will have to continue – and likely even improve – for them to shock the world.

Key matchup: Kansas’ Bigs vs. VCU’s Guards – It’s a match-up that resembles quarterback vs. quarterback, Larry vs. Magic when they were on opposite coasts, myself against all my ex-girlfriends as we look to one-up each other in life.  The Jayhawks frontcourt isnt actually going toe-to-toe against the Rams backcourt, but the production of both groups of players here will dictate how this game plays out. If the Morris twins are getting points and rebounds, that probably means Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozzell aren’t stroking it early and often.

X-factor: Shaka Smart – Also known as Shaka Flocka Flame (look it up if you’re over the age of 30), Smart is just that, and has to have something up his sleeve to keep this game close.

Winner: Kansas, because Corporate America doesn’t root for two mid-majors to square off in the Final Four.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)