NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview
Thursday, March 26
Whether you correctly picked the first two rounds in your bracket or not, one thing is certain: there was very little drama. For every Gonzaga-Western Kentucky thriller, there seemed to be four or five UConn-Texas A&M clunkers.
As if that wasn't enough, the Sweet 16 is full of chalk, as the favorites set a record again this year. Last year, all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four for the first time ever. This year, all 12 No. 1, 2, and 3 seeds made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever.
The Sweet 16 has arrived and the top teams are still playing. We all know this is a dream scenario for CBS and the sponsors, but it's also a dream come true for fans as well. Whether they admit it yet or not, they'll come to this conclusion by the weekend.
Like T.O. would say while wearing a Snuggie on his couch in Buffalo: Get your popcorn ready!
No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 5 Purdue
Thursday, March 26 at 7:07 p.m. ET
Spread: Connecticut -6.5
Backcourt Advantage: Connecticut—A.J. Price will be the difference-maker on the perimeter. UConn's senior point guard is averaging 23.5 points per game through the first two rounds, while shooting 15-for-31 from the floor, including a scorching 9-for-18 from behind the arc. Boilermaker guards E'Twaun Moore, Keaton Grant, and Chris Kramer will have their hands full containing him, but it can be done with a team effort.
Frontcourt Advantage: Connecticut—Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien will be able to muscle their way inside against Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson. Stanley Robinson will also look to continue his hot streak for the Huskies.
Momentum: Even—Purdue has won five straight tournament games now, including three en route to the Big Ten tournament title. The Boilermakers got off to great starts in both NCAA tournament games, only to see their leads evaporate late before holding on to beat Northern Iowa and Washington. UConn lost two in a row entering the tournament, but has been dominant in the first two rounds, winning by a combined 82 points.
Bottom Line: All signs point to another blow-out win for UConn, but Purdue has a way of dictating tempo and forcing its opponent to play its style. The Boilermakers will keep it close and might even take down the top-seeded Huskies.
Shaun's Pick: Purdue +6.5
No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 4 Xavier
Thursday, March 26 at 7:27 p.m. ET
Spread: Pittsburgh -7.0
Backcourt Advantage: Pittsburgh—Levance Fields is methodically leading his Panthers one game at a time. With Fields at the point, look for Pittsburgh to control the tempo against B.J. Raymond and the Musketeers.
Frontcourt Advantage: Pittsburgh—DeJuan Blair and Sam Young won't be able to dominate down low against Xavier forwards Derrick Brown and Jason Love, but they should still be able to efficiently score on offense and pace Pittsburgh's inside attack. Brown and Love were both in foul trouble against Wisconsin in the second round, so they need to stay on the court and attack Blair, who is very prone to foul trouble of his own.
Momentum: Pittsburgh—Pitt has not advanced past the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament yet and the team is well aware of this. The Panthers will treat this game as its most important of the season. They may have been tested in the first two rounds, but this will be their coming-out party.
Bottom Line: Pitt finally gets the Sweet 16 monkey off its back—in a big way.
Shaun's Pick: Pittsburgh -7.0
No. 2 Memphis vs. No. 3 Missouri
Thursday, March 26 at 9:37 p.m. ET
Spread: Memphis -4.5
Backcourt Advantage: Memphis—Tyreke Evans and Antonio Anderson will look to slow things down against Missouri's Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller. Both teams like to play high-energy pressure defense, but Memphis has shown it can be more successful in half-court sets than Missouri, who looks to get most of its points in transition.
Frontcourt Advantage: Even—This game will feature a terrific matchup inside, pitting Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggert against DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. While Carroll and Lyons are relied on as Missouri's 1-2 scoring punch, Dozier and Taggart will have a slight edge in rebounding. It will be very important for these four to stay out of foul trouble, as the game could be lost if one of these stars finds himself on the bench early.
Momentum: Even—Missouri has been on a roll, winning its last five games, including its three Big 12 tournament wins. Memphis turned things with a dominating win over Maryland after its first-round scare from Cal St. Northridge. It was the Tigers' 27th straight win.
Bottom Line: In a battle of up-tempo high-pressure teams, Memphis will slow things down to make Missouri play in the half court. Their backcourt advantage should prove to be the difference in what should be a very exciting game.
Shaun's Pick: Memphis -4.5
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Villanova
Thursday, March 26 at 9:57 p.m. ET
Spread: Duke -2.0
Backcourt Advantage: Even—Both teams feature deep, talented backcourts. Coach K has Duke playing a swarming, international style with Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson leading the way. Freshman Elliot Williams is inexperienced at the point, but will be helped by Scheyer and senior Greg Paulus. Villanova is led by point guard Scottie Reynolds, who will be flanked by Reggie Redding, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes. Reynolds has yet to take his game to the next level in the tournament, scoring only 19 points in the team's first two games.
Frontcourt Advantage: Even—Dante Cunningham will be the best frontcourt player on the court, but the Blue Devils have a bit more depth. Kyle Singler leads Duke inside, along with Lance Thomas, David McClure, and Brian Zoubek. Cunningham will be helped inside by Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson, whose 25 points helped Villanova survive its first-round scare from American. Cunningham also had 25 points in that game and followed it up with 18 in their 89-69 route of UCLA in the second round.
Momentum: Even—Villanova survived a scare to beat American and then blew through UCLA in the first two rounds. Duke had two similar games, but in reverse order, blowing out Binghamton before being taken to the brink of elimination by Texas. Gerald Henderson led the Blue Devils with 24 points against the Longhorns.
Bottom Line: Villanova will give Duke its best shot, but Coach K will lead his team into the Elite Eight for the first time since 2004.
Shaun's Pick: Duke -2.0
Check out my picks for Friday's games.