NCAA Tournament 2012: Ranking the Sweet 16 Matchups

Geoff EstesCorrespondent IMarch 19, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012: Ranking the Sweet 16 Matchups

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    The first weekend of the 2012 NCAA tournament is in the books.

    The Sweet 16 is only three days away—eight games in two nights for a chance to play in the Elite Eight.

    Here is a listing of the eight games, ranked from least anticipated to most anticipated.

    Obviously, this can be subjective if you are a fan of any of the 16 teams, but I attempted to do this with an outsider's perspective and rank them on the quality of the matchup.

8. (1) North Carolina vs. (13) Ohio

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    The good news for Ohio: Kendall Marshall fractured his right wrist.

    The bad news for Ohio: The rest of the Tar Heels are still playing.

    Ohio is a feel-good story and has proven to be a very tough out against Michigan and USF. But North Carolina is in a different class than those two teams.

    Tyler Zeller and John Henson will be a handful inside for the Bobcats. The loss of Marshall will not help the Tar Heels, but it probably won't be enough to make this a winnable game for Ohio.

    The reason this is ranked last is because it will likely be a blowout. However, if Ohio keeps this close five or 10 minutes into the second half, this could be the best Sweet 16 game due to the underdog aspect.

7. (11) N.C. State vs. (2) Kansas

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    Mark Gottfried has the N.C. State Wolfpack playing as well as anybody in the country. After an impressive second-round win over San Diego State, the Wolfpack followed it up with an even more impressive win over No. 3 seed Georgetown.

    N.C. State is hoping for another shot at North Carolina, whom it almost beat in the ACC tournament.

    Kansas was fortunate to get by Purdue Sunday night. The Jayhawks played suffocating defense when it mattered and went on a 6-0 run to advance.

    Kansas is one of the few teams in the country with the talent to beat North Carolina or Kentucky. To get a shot at the Tar Heels, the Jayhawks first need to get by the Wolfpack, who have looked very dangerous thus far.

    If Kansas and North Carolina win, a Roy Williams vs. Jayhawk Nation Elite Eight game would be pretty huge.

6. (3) Baylor vs. (10) Xavier

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    It hasn't been pretty for Xavier, but it has gotten the job done, beating Notre Dame and Lehigh to get here.

    The roller-coaster year for the Musketeers, starting with a national ranking, leading to the Cincinnati fight and two-month spiral, has culminated in the Sweet 16.

    Baylor has the talent to play with anybody in the country. It also has the inconsistent tendencies to be beaten by anybody in the country.

    Against Colorado, the Bears looked lost for the first 30 minutes and then looked like world-beaters in the last 10 minutes to blow the Buffs out of the water.

    Xavier has more talent than a typical 10th seed, which could make this a very entertaining game.

5. (2) Ohio State vs. (6) Cincinnati

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    What a year for the state of Ohio.

    Ohio State is coming off a nail-biting game against Gonzaga. The Buckeyes have a lot of scoring options with Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas but don't have a lot of depth.

    The Buckeyes should be a tough out for anybody unless they encounter foul trouble.

    Enter Cincinnati's defense.

    The Bearcats play smash-mouth defense and tend to frustrate players into committing dumb fouls on the other end.

    Cincinnati has had quite a strange year, starting with the brawl with Xavier and including an unexpected run to the Big East tournament finals.

    Cincinnati won a defensive-dominated game over Florida State to get to the Sweet 16 and will need an equally strong defensive showing to beat the Buckeyes.

    The winner of this game will meet either Syracuse or Wisconsin, setting up another great matchup.

4. (1) Syracuse vs. (4) Wisconsin

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    If you like offense, this probably isn't your game.

    If you like defense and 30-second possessions, you will love this game.

    Syracuse has overcome a handful of off-court issues to reach the Sweet 16, while Wisconsin has gotten here doing what it always does.

    The Badgers will play good defense and shoot a ton of threes.

    Syracuse will set up in a zone defense and allow Wisconsin to shoot from the outside. On offense, the Orange will have to use their athleticism to break the Wisconsin defense.

    If the Badgers' shots are going down, it will be a fantastic game. If they're not, Syracuse could be headed to the Elite Eight.

3. (1) Michigan State vs. (4) Louisville

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    Michigan State vs. Louisville has three very interesting subplots.

    Neither team has lost in a while. Louisville won the Big East tournament, and Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament

    Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino are two of the best in-game, tournament-tested and most well-prepared coaches in the country.

    Draymond Green and Peyton Siva are two of the most likable, interesting players in the country.

    Both of the coaches are enamored with both of these respective team leaders.

    This is a classic game where a fan with no rooting interest will hate seeing either of those two players lose and go home, but somebody has to.

2. (1) Kentucky vs. (4) Indiana

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    The photo at left is from the first time these two teams faced off. It was perhaps the best college basketball game of the regular season.

    Even though Indiana beat Kentucky on a buzzer-beater, it led almost the entire game.

    Kentucky, I am sure, has not forgotten the meeting in Bloomington.

    Two huge things will be different this time around. First, Indiana will not have its wild home crowd behind it. Second, Indiana has no Verdell Jones after the Hoosiers guard tore his ACL in the Big Ten tournament.

    Kentucky is one of the most talented, if not the most talented, teams in the country, but Tom Creen's Indiana has just enough swagger to think it can beat the Wildcats again.

1. (3) Marquette vs. (7) Florida

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    Marquette may be the most exciting team to watch in the entire tournament. It goes up and down the court at a blistering pace.

    Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom can be as good a one-two punch as any twosome in the nation. 

    At times, Marquette gets ahead of itself and gets moving too quickly. Bad transition mistakes and poor shooting could be its downfall.

    Florida has looked like a Final Four contender in its first two games. Granted, it has been against an over-seeded Virginia team and Norfolk State, but the Gators have looked good nonetheless.

    Buzz Williams is brash and has Marquette playing with a ton of confidence. The same can be said of Billy Donovan, who has shown in the past he has tournament coaching chops.

    This may seem like a strange choice as the best game of the Sweet 16, but it should be a fast-paced, extremely exciting game.