Four games will be decided today, just like four were decided yesterday. With only Arizona representing the bottom half of the bracket at a 12 seed, the seven other teams representing the top four seeds will all look to continue onto the Elite Eight. We break down the second half of the Sweet 16 below.
(1) North Carolina vs. (4) Gonzaga
Two straight double-digit victories, even with a second-round scare, bring UNC to another Sweet 16. However, there is only one digit on Tar Heels minds, and that’s Ty Lawson’s toe.
Lawson returned into the starting lineup against LSU, and, despite a slow start, finished strong (23 points and zero turnovers). He has stated he is good to go Friday, but needs to avoid another slow start or showing any lingering weakness.
If Lawson is struggling, Tyler Hansborough will need to step up, and while he has been a strong presence the last few weeks (nine straight games with double-digit points), he was held to a mere nine points by Gonzaga’s Josh Heytvelt the last time the two teams met. If those two are contained, Wayne Ellington will need to step up if UNC expects to win this game.
It took a coast-to-coast layup in the last second to knock off 12 seed Western Kentucky, but Demetri Goodson kept Gonzaga alive and into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. The combination of Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo (38 combined points, 6-of-11 from three point range vs. Western Kentucky), will need to keep up the efficiency against UNC.
If Heytvelt can duplicate his 2006 performance (19 points, eight rebounds), combined with a strong zone defense, then Gonzaga could be looking at an Elite Eight performance.
The Pick: Lawson’s toe and Hansborough’s early performance will be the key to a trip home or a trip forward for UNC. Even with that, Gonzaga’s stingy defense (61.9 points per game), is enough to justify the Bulldogs with the mini-upset over UNC.
(2) Oklahoma vs. (3) Syracuse
Oklahoma slightly limped into the tournament, but two straight double-digit victories in the tournament has them back on top as a potential Final Four candidate. That’s mainly in part to Blake Griffin, who has reeled off an impressive six straight double doubles, including a 33-point, 17-rebound performance in the second round win over Michigan.
Look for Syracuse to double team him heavily down low, so Blake’s brother Taylor Griffin will need to go above and beyond his 9.3 ppg average. The combination of getting the ball inside and second chance points from offensive rebounds should be enough to put away the Orange. However, if Oklahoma starts taking low percentage shots as a way of contesting Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, it could become a different game.
Syracuse has already played one extra game, courtesy of their six-overtime Big East thriller. They haven’t had to rely on the overtimes to get them to the Sweet 16, though, with an average margin of victory of 13 in their two games.
Jonny Flynn has averaged seven assists a game over the last two, and it will be his ability to get inside, force the outside defenders of Oklahoma in, and kick the ball out to guys like Eric Devendorf (31 points in two games) that will keep Syracuse in this one. The big key will be if the shooting touch against Stephen F. Austin (1-11 from three-point range) or the one against Arizona State (39 percent from beyond the arc) decides to show up.
The Pick: Griffin will get his chops against the 2-3 zone, and probably rack up a double-double easily. While Syracuse might be able to keep up with the outside touch of Devendorf and Andy Rautins, the transitions Oklahoma gets from Syracuse misses will be the deciding factor. Oklahoma moves on to the Elite Eight.
(1) Louisville vs. (12) Arizona
After a first round thrashing of Morehead State, Louisville almost become upset fodder before pulling away against Siena. The inside play of Terrence Willams (24 points, 13 rebounds against Siena) and Samardo Samuels (14 ppg average last two games) will be key as they try to cause early foul trouble against an Arizona team that lacks heavy depth.
Louisville’s defense (61.7 points given up per game) will consistently attack Arizona, and unless the Wildcats can slow the pace down, the Cardinals will have this one in the bag early.
Arizona was the surprise team to some for getting in the tournament, let alone this far. Despite being one of the last four in, and without a permanent head coach for next year, the Wildcats have playmakers. So far, they’ve won both games by a combined 27 points, including an upset over No. 5 seed Utah.
Nic Wise, who will be responsible for slowing down the attacking Louisville defense, has scored 50 points in his two games, to include making 17 straight free throws. Chase Budinger is going to have to be aggressive inside on offense, but smart on defense. If Willams and Samuels attack him early, the Wildcats could lose the inside battle quickly and watch this game go out of reach early.
The Pick: Louisville has all the tools and weapons to put this one away quickly, especially if they can exploit the depth issues of Arizona. Arizona has the athletes to play this tempo of a game, but they will fade in the second half.
(2) Michigan State vs. (3) Kansas
Michigan State has quietly marched into the Sweet 16, courtesy of a sweat-it-out matchup against USC. Goran Suton has put up 27 boards in the last two games, but was a measly 1-for-10 from the floor, and will need to improve that against a tough interior in Kansas.
Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan (42 combined points through two games) will need to step up and make some shots against a stingy Kansas defense that gives us 65.4 points per game. If they miss, it will be a hard-fought battle underneath for Suton, who is part of a team that can get the offensive boards (14 per game), but will need to keep Aldrich away to get those second chance points.
Kansas is the defending national champion, but not many are talking about them. However, they have swiftly moved into the Sweet 16 behind two double-digit wins.
Cole Aldrich is a beast, and his triple-double performance in round two (13 points, 20 rebounds, 10 blocks) shows he is the guy to stop inside. He’s had two straight double-double performances, and will be expected to put up the same numbers to keep the Jayhawks competitive.
While he’s getting all the inside focus, look for Sherron Collins (57 points in two games) to knock down shots from the perimeter, but he will have to get past an even stingier defense that gives up a mere 63.1 points per game.
The Pick: The combination of Collins and Aldrich is too much for one team to handle. As long as Aldrich is down low getting his high-percentage shots and fighting for rebounds, he’s going to keep the Spartans from second-chance points. If he can change the momentum with his inside play, Kansas wins handily.
By Ryan of The Sportmeisters