The first weekend of March Madness is now in the books, and the Sweet 16 is approaching rapidly. After the NCAA tournament field was announced, we were wondering who got snubbed and which teams would eventually make it to New Orleans to play in the Final Four.
Now the teams that got snubbed are irrelevant (have you heard any news about Drexel lately?) and some of the teams that we thought would make deep runs (Missouri, Duke, Vanderbilt and Florida State) have been sent home.
The reality is that there are 16 teams that still have the opportunity to cut down the nets. These 16 teams boast plenty of outstanding players, but these four in particular will have great performances to help their teams advance to the Elite Eight.
Marquette advanced to the Sweet 16 largely due to the outstanding play of Jae Crowder and the 37 points in two games from Darius Johnson-Odom. Against the talented Florida Gators, the Golden Eagles will need Vander Blue to play efficiently than he has thus far in the tournament.
Blue, a sophomore guard, has turned the ball over seven times and only assisted on a single basket in his first two tournament games. He has also scored just 12 points on very poor shooting.
Marquette and Florida are two teams that often play without a true big man on the court, so guard play will be crucial.
If Marquette wants to beat the guard-heavy Gators, Blue will have to be more productive on the offensive side of the ball. I see him stepping up in this matchup.
William Buford and his Ohio State Buckeyes will be playing against in-state rivals Cincinnati in the Sweet 16, a matchup in which there will be both a spot in the Elite Eight and state pride on the line.
The one-on-one matchup between Jared Sullinger and Yancy Gates will be fun to watch, but Ohio State's chances of winning lay largely on Buford's shoulders. He scored an inefficient 13 points against Gonzaga on just 4-of-13 shooting, but the Buckeyes advanced due to the phenomenal performances they got from both Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas.
Buford needs to rediscover his stroke, as he has been in somewhat of a shooting slump since his 25-point performance against Michigan State earlier this month. The Bearcats allow opponents to score a mere 61 points per game, so points could be hard to come by for the Buckeyes.
Assuming this is the case, Buford will need to bring his A-game if Ohio State plans on playing another game. The senior understands the importance of this game and will play great in the Sweet 16.
It was not all that long ago when Perry Jones III was considered to be an elite NBA prospect. The sophomore is no longer projected to be a lottery pick, but his talent is undeniable. But even with his abilities and 6'11" frame, he has struggled thus far in the NCAA tournament.
In Baylor's first game against South Dakota State, Jones was nearly invisible, scoring just two points. Against Colorado in the Bears' second game, he had just seven points and an embarrassing four rebounds. Had it not been for Brady Heslip's incredible shooting, Baylor might have lost before reaching the Sweet 16.
Jones better be able to put his poor performances behind him when Baylor meets Xavier in the Sweet 16, because even if the Bears are big favorites against the Musketeers, Tu Holloway and company won't go down without a fight.
While Xavier does have a true seven-footer in Kenny Frease, Jones should still be able to have a great game against the Musketeers. This will be Baylor's third game of the NCAA tournament, and each opponent has been a double-digit seed.
In order to continue taking advantage of these opportunities, the Bears need their best big man to start playing well.
A solid showing the rest of the way could vastly improve Jones' draft stock, so I expect him to display his talents to the fullest from here on out.
The absence of Fab Melo has been the main story for Syracuse in this year's NCAA tournament, but the Orange were able to quell many of their critics after a 16-point win against Kansas State.
In both that game and their opener against UNC-Asheville, Kris Joseph played below his abilities. He only scored a combined 23 points and shot just 29.4 percent from the field.
Joseph's scoring is down from his average of nearly 14 points per game, and he has only registered one assist thus far in March Madness. His struggles on offense will need to end in order for Syracuse to defeat the extremely disciplined Wisconsin Badgers in the Sweet 16.
Bo Ryan's defense can cause fits for opposing teams, but Syracuse's offensive talent will be able to overwhelm and overpower Wisconsin's robust defense. Assuming Joseph plays well, the Orange should advance to the Elite Eight despite having no Fab Melo.
If he doesn't, Jim Boeheim's squad could be heading back to New York instead of continuing its path to New Orleans.