Thursday’s Sweet 16 Preview (East and West Regional)
After a crazy tournament filled with upsets, controversial calls, and buzzer beaters we have arrived at the Sweet 16, which kicks off tonight. The two regions playing tonight are the east and west regions, which couldn’t be more different in how they arrived at the regional semi-finals. In the East the top 4 seeds (Indiana, Miami, Marquette, and Syracuse) all advanced to the round of 16 surviving a few scares along the way. On the other hand, in the West only one of the top 4 seeds (#2 seed Ohio State) made it to this point and they are joined by sixth seed Arizona, who beat 14 seed Harvard, 9 seed Wichita State (who defeated top seed Gonzaga), and 13 seed La Salle who had to win 3 games to make it this far. I will break down the 4 games which are happening tonight in DC and LA and give you my keys to the each game and my prediction for the winners.
Let’s start East where top seed Indiana faces 4th seed Syracuse, but before that 2 seed Miami (my national title pick) takes on Marquette, who narrowly beat Davidson and Butler to make it to the Verizon Center. In this matchup between the Golden Eagles and Hurricanes, Miami will be without starting center Reggie Johnson due to a knee injury. Marquette will need big games from juniors Davante Gardner and Vander Blue on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor as they must contain the tremendous guard combination for the Hurricanes in Durand Scott and Shane Larkin. Also, if Buzz Williams’ team wants to win this game they need to keep the score in the 60’s and not let Miami quicken the pace and get fast break chances with Larkin, Scott, and Kenny Kadji. In games against tournament teams the Golden Eagles went 4-5 in games when they or their opponents broke 70 compared to a record of 5-1 for Miami. In the end I see Miami’s athleticism being too much and winning the game 74-68.
The night-cap is a rematch of the 1987 Championship Game between two storied programs, Syracuse and Indiana. This matchup will come down to what many Orange games come down to, how does their opponent handle their zone. In this case the Hoosiers need guys like national player of the year Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford to knock down medium and long range shots to stretch the zone and give 7 footer Cody Zeller opportunities down low. In turn Jim Boeheim will need his forwards in CJ Fair and James Southerland to produce on both ends of the floor especially on the glass to limit Zeller’s effectiveness and the Hoosiers’ second chance points. Similar to the first game of the night the Big East squad must control the pace and not let Tom Crean’s team, who ranks 3rd in the nation averaging 80 points a game, to get out and run. When it comes down to it, I expect Zeller to use his size to control the glass and the game with Indiana winning 78-71.
Out west Wichita State vs. La Salle will close the night out while the action opens with Arizona vs. the Buckeyes of Ohio State. This game features a teacher vs. student match up between the coaches as Arizona’s Sean Miller served as Thad Matta’s, Ohio State’s coach, assistant at Xavier from 2001-04 before taking over for him when Matta headed to Columbus. The Buckeyes are led by Deshaun Thomas on the offensive end and Aaron Craft, arguably the nation’s best defender, in Aaron Craft. Their opponents, the Wildcats, are led by seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill. Once again this is clash of styles as Arizona is in the top 50 of the country in scoring while Ohio State is outside the top 100 with an average of under 70 points a game. The difference in the game will be the supporting case of Arizona, led by guard Nick Johnson, will outplay Ohio State’s supporting cast with the Wildcats winning 70-65.
The final game of the day features the first match up of mid-majors in the Sweet 16 since 2006 when Wichita State fell to George Mason as the Shockers take on La Salle. The Explorers are led by star guard Ramon Galloway and Tyrone Garland who hit the Southwest Philly Floater to beat Ole Miss at the buzzer and they are trying to duplicate what VCU did two years ago and go from froom first four to Final Four. The Shockers are back in the Sweet 16 since that 2006 loss thanks to forwards Cleananthony Early and Carl Hall controlling the paint against Gonzaga. That will be the key to this game as well as the Shockers are in the top 30 in the nation in rebounds while La Salle is barely in the top 200. Another key is if the Shockers can control Galloway and make other players beat them. I expect the Shockers to use their rebounding edge to key their victory 75-66.
These games should continue all the trends that we have seen so far this tournament and only amp up the excitement and intensity. Later today, I will look ahead to the Sweet 16 games in the South and Midwest regionals.