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Virginia vs. Purdue: Picks, predictions for March Madness Elite Eight matchup

first_imgSN’s MARCH MADNESS HQLive NCAA bracket | Live scoreboard | Full TV schedule​It’s been even longer for Purdue — though not much longer. The Boilers last were in the Final Four in 1980, when center Joe Barry Carroll and guard Keith Edmonson got the team through a regional final against a pre-Mike Krzyzewski Duke squad.One of them will break its Final Four drought following the South Region final at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. Virginia will shed the heartbreak of misspending high tournament seeds so often in the past half-decade. Or Purdue will chase the demons that stole key contributors such as forward Robbie Hummel in 2010 and center Isaac Haas in 2018 with poorly timed injuries.Virginia, No. 1 seedCoach: Tony Bennett, 13 years (10 at Virginia)Overall record: 32-3Scoring leader: De’Andre Hunter (15.1 ppg)Rebounding leader: Braxton Key (5.4 rpg)Assists leader: Ty Jerome (5.3 apg)Famous non-athlete alum: Journalist Katie CouricPurdue, No. 3 seedCoach: Matt Painter, 15 years (14 at Purdue)Overall record: 26-9Scoring leader: Carsen Edwards (23.8 ppg)Rebounding leader: Nojel Eastern (5.6 rpg)Assists leader: Ryan Cline (3.4 apg)Famous non-athlete alum: Comedian Jim GaffiganMORE ELITE EIGHT PREVIEWSDuke-MSU | Zags-Tech | Kentucky-AuburnBest individual matchupPurdue PG Nojel Eastern vs. whomever he draws as an assignment. Eastern showed with his dominant first half against Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield what a force he can be at that end of the floor. Schofield had only a single point until Eastern got into foul trouble and Painter had to switch the matchup. Eastern could be used against any member of UVA’s elite perimeter trio: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy or De’Andre Hunter. Which will Painter see as the key to the operation? This is an important decision, because diminishing the essential component is an important part of empowering the other Purdue defenders. One guess is he will start with Guy and use Edwards, who did a solid job with Tennessee PG Jordan Bone, against Jerome. That way Edwards isn’t having to chase Guy around screens and can preserve his energy for offense.Most eye-popping statThis is Virginia’s fourth 30-win season in the past six years. In that same period, Kansas has three and Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky have two.Virginia wins if …The Cavaliers’ greatest asset on this day is its offense, not its defense. This might surprise you, but the Boilermakers’ defense can be streaky. UVA has three first-rate offensive players in Guy, Jerome and Hunter, and 5-9 freshman guard Kihei Clark is adding punch by hitting 3s while defenders are preoccupied with those other guys. Virginia played almost exclusively in its win over Oregon with a smaller lineup, but expect reserve big man Braxton Key to get a longer look against the Boilers. This may not be an overpowering offensive team, but it is an elite offense, ranking third in Division I in efficiency, 20th in effective field goal percentage, seventh in 3-point shooting and second in limiting its own turnovers. Virginia last appeared in the NCAA Final Four in 1984, a year after Ralph Sampson completed a career that many expected would make the Cavaliers a regular at that gathering. Now, he’s in the stands cheering on nephew Braxton Key.A lot of time has passed. Purdue wins if …Either Carsen Edwards or Ryan Cline, preferably both, can continue the hot shooting they’ve demonstrated in the tournament. Together, they have shot 42.2 percent from long range in the three NCAA Tournament games and accounted for a combined 30 points per game with those 3s. Yes, that is an accurate stat: 30 points per game. Virginia’s pack-line defense is designed first to protect the lane and the rim. That does not mean the Cavaliers are ineffective at defending the perimeter. They are No. 2 in the nation at defending the 3-pointer. What Purdue has in its favor here is that neither Cline nor Edwards is a typical 3-point shooter. Most are looking for space and a clean look at the goal to be effective. Edwards has a quick release and can hit his shot comfortably against a tight defense, so long as he is in rhythm and not contacted. Cline needs a little more room and thrives off the dribble handoff, but he creates some of his own with his uncommon, backward body lean. UVA might struggle to impact their effectiveness. It might be up to Edwards and Cline to be “on.”MORE: Why your team won’t make the Final FourElite Eight pick: VirginiaIt seems a lot to ask for the Boilers to shoot themselves through another huge game against an opponent this good. Although their best assets may be designed to make Virginia’s defensive system less impactful, those assets also are more prone to a bad night than an attacking wing or a low-post scorer might be. It hasn’t been that long since Edwards slumped through nearly all of February, or since Cline opened the NCAA Tournament hitting 1 of 11 from long range against Old Dominion. Virginia will run effective offense against the Boilers by finding the weak spots in their alignment, and Purdue doesn’t have the answers to cover for those problems.last_img

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