Picks for Saturday's men's NCAA Tournament Elite 8 games

San Diego State v Connecticut
San Diego State v Connecticut / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

Unbelievably, the NCAA tournament has almost reached its conclusion as we only have eight teams remaining in the field. The final four is just a week away and by next Monday we’ll have a national champion.

We’ve seen a lot of high drama and a lot of great games between great teams. The lack of upsets in rounds one and two dictated powerhouse matchups in the Sweet 16, and we were treated to some great basketball, plus finally got some upsets.

Saturday and Sunday's Elite Eight games should be no different and we should be treated to high-level play that will ultimately lead us to a final four.

UConn (8.5) vs. Illinois

First up on Saturday, we’ll be treated to a matchup between the defending champions of Connecticut and the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Huskies enter the game as pretty big favorites for an elite eight matchup and deservedly so. They’ve trounced through the competition and look like the class of college basketball for the second straight year.

But the Illini are no slouches. They rolled through the Big Ten tournament en route to a title and they’ve been equally as sharp so far in the NCAA tournament. NBA draft prospect Terrence Shannon Junior, the transfer from Texas Tech has been amazing for Illinois and looks every bit the NBA draft prospect he’s hyped to be.

Shannon is not without controversy as he was charged with rape in December and suspended from the team, but he has denied the charges and was reinstated to the team after missing six games. He went on to be named first-team all-big 10 second-team all-American and was the most outstanding player of the Big Ten tournament.

The Huskies are led by NBA prospects of their own, specifically big man, Donovan, Clingan, and guard, Stephon Castle. Those players and others have had this UConn team steamrolling and it hasn’t looked like any team can slow them down.

But Illinois will pose the toughest challenge yet. There is a question as to whether or not they have the size to keep up with the Huskies, but they do have great athleticism and perimeter play. It should be a good test but one that I ultimately like UConn to win. 

I think Illinois can keep this close and make it a game but at the end of the day, the Huskies are just too good, too big, too deep, and too powerful. They have one of the best coaches in America and I just don’t think he will let this team lose with the big home advantage playing in Boston

 I think Illinois covers the spread of 8.5, but UConn ultimately wins the game and moves onto their second straight final four.

The pick: Uconn 81 - Illinois 74

Alabama (-3.5) vs. Clemson

No, this isn’t a football playoff game, it’s basketball. The late game should be even more interesting as we’ll get treated to two more unexpected teams. This Clemson team is a bit of a Cinderella story. 

They spent much of the season on the bubble and entered the tournament as a less-than-inspiring six seed. Despite being underdogs in their first game against UNLV, the Tigers were able to win that game and haven’t looked back since. They led almost wire to wire against the big 12 powers, Baylor, and then did it again against the heavily favored Arizona Wildcats.

The Tide aren’t exactly a Cinderella story coming out of the mighty SEC. The tests weren’t too tough in rounds one and two, and they barely had to sweat as they got by Charleston and then Grand Canyon. 

They were underdogs in their sweet 16 matchup against the one-seed North Carolina but were able to pull out a wild frenetic back-and-forth game in Los Angeles, one of the best games of the entire tournament.

This will be a really fun game, but I’m going with the high-powered team out of the SEC. Alabama’s explosive offense may just be too much for the Tigers to keep up with. I like coach Nate Oats to finally lead his team to the final four in a hard-fought victory that ends this magical run for Clemson.

The pick: Alabama 90 - Clemson 77