By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
For those chalk pickers, it looks like your bracket is doing OK. Mine, not so much (but I’m still beating Sportmeister Justin, which is always a plus). Nevertheless, there are eight games being played over the next two days that promise extreme excitement.
This is the time where the men are separated from the boys. Let’s go deeper into the Sweet 16 matchups. First, we'll look at the Thursday night games.
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (4) Xavier
Pittsburgh didn’t exactly waltz into the Sweet 16, with two hard-fought victories against East Tennessee State and Oklahoma State forcing the Panthers to play some hard basketball. Pittsburgh is trying to enter uncharted waters for the first time, having never gotten past this round under coach Jamie Dixon.
Guard Jermaine Dixon will need to get past his 1-for-7 performance in the first two games to help lead the Panthers to victory. The key for victory is if forward DeJuan Blair can get his third-straight double-double and use the expected double-teams to his advantage.
Xavier has had an easier road, with double digit victories so far, but they still have a mark of inconsistency upon them. Their big men are going to have to get inside and get physical with Pittsburgh to win the rebound game, but they have to avoid early foul trouble. The key will be posting up and using Blair’s aggressiveness to their advantage. If they can do that and get him into early foul problems, Xavier could roll to victory.
The Pick: Pittsburgh has such a loaded team down low, and they’re going to win the rebound and second chance points battle, and unless Xavier is firing from all cylinders outside, this game is Pittsburgh’s to lose.
(2) Duke vs. (3) Villanova
Duke has been on fire recently, even with the last minute squeaker against Texas in the Round of 32. The trio of forward Gerald Henderson, forward Kyle Singler, and guard Jon Scheyer (combined 92 points and 33 rebounds in two games) took over against Texas, and will be expected to do so against Villanova. If they can catch on fire early, they could ride the hot hands all the way to the Elite Eight.
Villanova almost became a day one casualty, and surprised everyone by casually dismantling UCLA in round two. They have played and beaten the big boys before, so this team has the potential of beating Duke. The addition of being near their home in Boston will also be an advantage, especially considering the unified hatred of Duke.
Forward Scottie Reynolds has been quiet in the first two games, with a combined 19 points, and will need to step up back to his 15.1 points per game average quickly to give the Wildcats a shot.
The Pick: Villanova is not as physical a team as Texas was, but the Big East is still known for being rough. If they can get physical and take Duke off their game, then Villanova will continue to ride the near-home advantage to the Elite Eight.
(1) Connecticut vs. (5) Purdue
The Huskies have been nothing short of dominant so far, winning their games by a combined 82 points. Despite the loss of Jerome Dyson, this team has showed the desire to win in the postseason.
A.J. Price (47 points, nine three-pointers in two games) and Jeff Adrien (46 points, 16 rebounds) have made up for the relative no-show of Hasheem Thabeet thus far (26 points, 17 rebounds in two games), who should have a solid bounce-back game against the Boilermakers.
Purdue has been grinding out their wins, unlike their Sweet 16 opponents, and have won their two games by a combined seven points. But the only No. 5 seed to advance beyond the first round is doing it thanks to the play of JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, who have been the only two players to score in double digits in both first round games for the Boilermakers.
Purdue will struggle down low, especially considering UConn out-rebounds them by about nine per game, forcing Johnson and Moore to take a lot of outside shots, because there will be no room inside.
The Pick: UConn is on fire right now, and the injuries Purdue has sustained have definitely hurt them this season. I see the Boilermakers fading fast, and another double-digit victory is in tow for the Huskies.
(2) Memphis vs. (3) Missouri
Last year’s NCAA Finalist in Memphis almost became a first round knockout by way of Cal State-Northridge, but a strong victory coupled with a blowout against Maryland has the undefeated team of 2009 right where they want to be.
They will be tested by the full-court press that Missouri is infamous for, but if Tyreke Evans (17 point average in two games) can keep the Tigers focused, then their No. 1 defense (57.6 points per game) can do the rest.
Look to see if Robert Sallie can keep up his amazing tournament (Memphis NCAA record 35 points in first round, including 10 three-pointers), which would give this team an even more potent overall squad than before.
The other Tigers, of Missouri, were less than a foot away from possibly being at home now. That’s thanks to Lazar Hayward’s stepping over the baseline when Marquette was down two, giving Missouri the ball back and sealing the victory in the second round.
Leo Lyons has been the consistent key Missouri needs, with 41 points in two games. Lyons and DeMarre Carroll, unquestionably the leaders of the Tigers, will need to move the ball around and try to get themselves into favorable matchups to attack the basket with. For a team that leads the nation in assists, they have the potential to do just that.
The Pick: Two half-court offenses against two different attacking defenses should make this game come down to the wire. Transitional points and turnovers will be the key in this fundamental battle. While it would be easy just to say the Tigers would win, Memphis has too many weapons that can keep up with the 40-minute attack of Missouri, and will move onto the Elite Eight again.