Last night, Baylor and Stanford easily advanced the the Final Four, and now the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the nation will face off in the semis instead of the finals (::cough:: committees R silly ::cough::). Now, the right side of the bracket will take shape and the Final Four will be completed. Connecticut and Notre Dame look to continue the trend of No. 1 seed domination tonight:
(2) Kentucky vs. (1) Connecticut - 7 p.m. ET
ESPN (online at ESPN3)
As with yesterday, Nate was expecting this matchup in the Kingston bracket. In his look-ahead to the potential of this contest, he gave the edge to UConn.
Turnovers will matter if indeed UConn and Kentucky square off for the right to go to the Final Four, but Kentucky is a team that can go through major scoring droughts as an average shooting team and the way UConn plays defense in the halfcourt it could make things hard offensively for the Wildcats. And yet again, Stefanie Dolson will matter in this game: if UConn can get a strong effort from her, particularly on the boards, it will be tough for UK to keep pace.
I would also like to add that as is nearly always the case with the Huskies, the proximity to home also has to be of immeasurable benefit. If Connecticut advances, the trip to Denver will be their first game outside of Connecticut/Rhode Island since a road trip to Marquette over a month ago, on Feb. 25.
(2) Maryland vs. (1) Notre Dame - 9 p.m. ET
ESPN (online at ESPN 3)
The nightcap in Raleigh will feature the Irish and the Terps, the one region that Nate didn't predict correctly (only because Texas A&M's basketball team found a way to implode just as mightily as their football team did this season).
Although he didn't predict Maryland to advance, Nate did call the potential of a Maryland/Notre Dame game "one of the more intriguing potential Elite 8 matchups". Maryland is riding a 10-game winning streak and showed their confidence in the team by erasing an 18-point deficit. Despite the A&M stingy defense that forced 18 Maryland turnovers, the Terps finished with +12 in rebounding, and in turn +13 in second chance points.
Notre Dame put away St. Bonnie's in resounding fashion and is apparently playing with a "chip on their shoulder" after failing to pull out a finals win last season. That chip has enabled the Irish to float through the tournament with relative ease with an 11-point win over Cal proving to be their stiffest tournament competition. It will be interesting to see if the Terps continue to push through with a winning spirit or if the Irish have been lulled into relaxation on their run through the brackets. After the Terrapins posted their amazing comeback, Nate previewed what he thought of this intriguing matchup.
Ultimately, Maryland didn't actually play that well against Texas A&M; their rebounding dominance and zone defense just helped will them to a 40-10 advantage in that disjointed 15 minute span that overwhelmed the Aggies. When they can control the ball well and rebound as they did today, they're tough to beat.
Notre Dame struggled with Cal, a similarly rugged rebounding team, in the second round and this game could go similarly with Alyssa Thomas' being the player that puts them over the top. But the Irish will probably have a game plan ready to prevent this game from going similarly.
I won't change predictions now, but as with Maryland's game against Texas A&M their game against Notre Dame should be exciting and could go either way.
But just like Nate, I'm guessing we'll have a One + One + One + One + Four to watch in Denver.
For more tournament coverage on Swish Appeal, be sure to visit our "NCAA Tournament 2012" section.