This is part II of the “X-Factors & Predictions” articles, as you can find the Thursday game analysis here. Luckily for basketball lovers, we have four fabulous games on Friday, before we head towards the Elite 8 on Saturday.
7:09 PM South Region: #4 Butler Bulldogs vs. #1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Butler X-Factor: Kelan Martin. Butler’s 6th man has been averaging almost 29 minutes this season and they have been productive. He’s coming off of a big 19 point outing against Middle Tennessee and the Bulldogs have cruised through the first two rounds. If they have what it takes to pull the upset, Kelan Martin will have a major role.
North Carolina X-Factor: Isaiah Hicks. The Tar Heels snuck out of the second round after surviving a scare against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Hicks struggled in that game, but the senior has played well, as of late. The Tar Heels will need 15+ from this kid to secure a victory.
Prediction: Butler 74-North Carolina 75. This game is going to be a doozy, with the Tar Heels squeaking by yet again.
7:29 PM East Region: #7 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. #3 Baylor Bears
South Carolina X-Factor: Rakym Felder. Nobody expected South Carolina to be here, but the defeat over Duke has shown that they are legit. Elder played spectacularly off of the bench for South Carolina including 9/10 from the foul line. Expect a similar performance if the Gamecocks want to pull another upset.
Baylor X-Factor: Manu Lecomte. Baylor’s season was all but over in the game against USC. That was until Manu Lecomte went on his own personal run of eight straight points, to lift the Bears into the Sweet 16. Despite Baylor being a team that often relies on their bigs rather than their guards, Manu will need to come through for them to move on.
Prediction: South Carolina 73-Baylor 65. The Gamecocks’ season will continue to see another round with an over-seeded Baylor team taking the loss.
9:39PM South Region: #3 UCLA Bruins vs. #2 Kentucky Wildcats
UCLA X-Factor: Aaron Holiday. A bench player for the Bruins’ high-powered offensive machine, Holiday has been really struggling to find his shot lately. The Sophomore played very well in conference play, but over the last 4 games, has shot 13/35 from the field. When Lonzo Ball and Isaac Hamilton need well-deserved breaks, Holiday needs to pull his weight.
Kentucky X-Factor: Derek Willis. The senior big man has been known to hit key shots down the stretch, and did so in their escape last round against Wichita State. Except the big man to stretch the floor and leave the driving to Malik Monk and DeAaron Fox.
Prediction: UCLA 76-Kentucky 64. UCLA Coach Steve Alford hasn’t been put in this position before, so that is worrisome. However, Kentucky has really struggled to shoot the ball against relatively mediocre defense. Expect some more LaVar Ball talk as we had to the Elite 8.
9:59PM East Region: #8 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #4 Florida Gators
Wisconsin X-Factor: Ethan Happ. It’s incredible that Wisconsin is in this position again. After getting improperly seeded, they faced Villanova in the second round and won. Wisconsin might not have had to go to the buzzer if Ethan Happ could stay out of foul trouble. Both games he has picked up two early fouls, causing him to take a spot on the bench for the rest of the first half. If he can play without fouling, you have to like the chances of the Badgers.
Florida X-Factor: Kasey Hill. Florida thrashed Virginia in the second round, holding the Cavaliers to 39 points. Kasey Hill is a senior who is Florida’s true role player. He doesn’t do anything fantastic, but he does most things well. Can the Gators keep this run going on the shoulders of this senior guard?
Prediction: Wisconsin 60-Florida 70. The March Madness legend that is Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig will have his time run out, and the Gators will move on.