NCAA Tournament 2013: Best Matchups in Round of 32

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2013

NCAA Tournament 2013: Best Matchups in Round of 32

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    The second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament is in the books, and it set up some terrific games for the Round of 32. For many of those contests, the game will be won or lost based on one or two crucial matchups between the strongest elements of each team.

    One of the best such showdowns pits second-round hero Dorian Green against Louisville’s intimidating backcourt. The Colorado State point guard lit up Missouri in a Ram rout, but the quick-handed Cardinal guards are a threat to shut down even the hottest of scorers.

    Herein, a closer look at Green’s tall task and nine more key duels that will be difference-makers in the third round of March Madness.

10. Kelly Olynyk vs. Wichita State’s Rebounders

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    One of the biggest factors in Gonzaga’s surprisingly tough win over Southern was the Zags’ absolute dominance on the glass.

    Led by star center Kelly Olynyk’s 10 boards, the Bulldogs won the rebounding battle 36-20—a feat they won’t be duplicating against a Wichita State team that thrives on its own rebounding prowess.

    When to Watch: Gonzaga vs. Wichita State (Saturday, 8:40 p.m. ET)

    What Gonzaga needs: Olynyk, whose defensive abilities are several cuts below his devastating offensive game, must focus on boxing out on D. If Wichita State gets another 10 offensive boards (as it did in beating Pitt), the Zags are in trouble.

    What Wichita State needs: Another big game on the offensive glass would help, but the Shockers can help themselves at least as much by rebounding from the wings again. Six WSU guards totaled 13 boards against Pitt, and a similar effort against Gonzaga’s streaky three-point shooters would be huge.

    Pick: Tough as Wichita State is on the glass, the Shockers don’t have the length to handle Olynyk and his towering cohorts. Gonzaga will keep the rebounding battle close, allowing its superior scorers to win the day.

9. Keith Appling vs. Memphis’ Gambling Defense

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    Scoring leader and point guard Keith Appling is the linchpin of Michigan State’s fragile offense.

    Coming off a solid 15-point effort against Valparaiso, Appling must now face down one of the nation’s most aggressive (and athletic) backcourts as his Spartans take on Memphis.

    When to Watch: Michigan State vs. Memphis (Saturday, 2:45 p.m. ET)

    What Michigan State needs: Appling has been scoring well lately, but he hasn’t had more than two assists since March 3. To make the Tigers pay for pressuring the ball, the junior will need to set up his teammates as well as his own shots.

    What Memphis needs: Turnovers fuel Memphis’ devastating fast break. Coming off a nine-steal effort against Saint Mary’s, Chris Crawford and company must force the tempo and keep the Spartans out of their half-court rhythm.

    Pick: A shaky couple of months for Appling will end with an upset loss as Memphis turns the game into a track meet the Spartans can’t handle.

8. Marshall Henderson vs. La Salle’s Backcourt Scorers

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    Ole Miss scoring machine Marshall Henderson poured in 19 points against one of the best defenses in the country to put the Rebels in the Round of 32.

    Now he gets to match three-point tries with a La Salle squad that gets 45 points a game from its top three guards.

    When to Watch: Ole Miss vs. La Salle (Sunday, 7:40 p.m. ET)

    What Ole Miss needs: Frustrating as he can be, Henderson has to play the game his way. That means a lot of missed shots (which the Rebel big men will need to clean up) but also bushels of points by the time the final buzzer sounds.

    What La Salle needs: Above all, the Explorers can’t try to get into a game of H-O-R-S-E with Henderson, especially if he goes on one of his one-man runs. La Salle has to strike a balance between shooting treys when it can and attacking the basket to keep Ole Miss off balance.

    Pick: La Salle standout Tyreek Duren—14.6 points per game on the year—is coming off back-to-back terrible games (2-for-13 combined shooting). Unless he bounces back strong on Sunday, Henderson will run-and-gun the Rebels to another win.

7. Marquette’s Defense vs. Butler’s Free-Throw Shooters

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    Marquette survived its opener against Davidson (in spite of a 34.5 percent shooting day) on the strength of its own bruising defense.

    The Golden Eagles are in for another defensive slugfest against Butler, but the Bulldogs may have an ace in the hole from the foul line.

    When to Watch: Marquette vs. Butler (Saturday, 7:45 p.m. ET)

    What Marquette needs: Like so many Big East teams, the Golden Eagles will benefit the most from the fewest whistles blown. If the officials allow a physical game, Marquette’s advantage in raw athleticism will come through.

    What Butler needs: The Bulldogs shot a dazzling 25-for-28 from the charity stripe in finishing off Bucknell. With Rotnei Clarke (.882) highlighting a strong collection of free-throw shooters, a tightly-called game is Butler’s friend.

    Pick: Marquette surrendered 22 free-throw attempts against the Wildcats, and it won’t be a surprise if that number increases on Saturday, allowing the Bulldogs to pick the Golden Eagles apart one point at a time.

6. Dwayne Evans vs. Oregon’s Forwards

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    Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis’ 6’5”, 230-pound wrecking ball, is coming off one of his best games of the year.

    After piling up 24 points and six boards in a rout of New Mexico State, he’ll take on one of the country’s most versatile collections of forwards as the Billikens square off with Oregon.

    When to Watch: St. Louis vs. Oregon (Saturday, 7:10 p.m. ET)

    What Saint Louis needs: Evans doesn’t have to score 20 points every time out, but he’s absolutely got to control the glass. Arsalan Kazemi had 17 rebounds by himself against Oklahoma State, and another game like that will ruin SLU’s day.

    What Oregon needs: Kazemi is likely to spend the most time banging with Evans, but what Oregon could really use is a big game from E.J. Singler (held to eight points by the Cowboys) to keep the Billiken defense guessing.

    Pick: Oregon has too many different looks to throw at Evans for him to handle them all. The Ducks will win the battle on the boards and with it (in all probability) the game.

5. Trevor Mbakwe vs. Florida’s Frontcourt Defense

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    Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe battered UCLA on Friday night for nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds.

    He’ll face an even tougher frontcourt on Sunday as the Gophers go up against Florida, which got a combined 34 points and 17 rebounds from Erik Murphy and Patric Young in Friday’s rout.

    When to Watch: Minnesota vs. Florida (Sunday, 6:10 p.m. ET)

    What Minnesota needs: Mbakwe is sure to get his rebounds, but the Gophers have to get an aggressive offensive effort from him. He averages just 10 points a game this year, but if he can put pressure on the Gator forwards to worry about him, he’ll open things up for the Hollinses in the backcourt again.

    What Florida needs: Above all, the Gators have to box Mbakwe out on every shot, because there are few better offensive rebounders in the tournament. If they can keep him from putting back the rebounds he does get, that will be a huge help as well.

    Pick: Mbakwe’s offense has been too inconsistent to threaten one of the best defensive teams in the country. Look for him to finish with six points, 15 rebounds and a loss.

4. North Carolina’s Speed vs. Kansas’ Power

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    Going back to his days at Kansas, North Carolina coach Roy Williams has won with fast-breaking, up-tempo offenses.

    His Tar Heels piled up 78 points against Villanova, and now they advance to face his old team, owners of the nation’s No. 1 field-goal defense thanks primarily to a bruising frontcourt.

    When to Watch: North Carolina vs. Kansas (Sunday, 5:15 p.m. ET)

    What North Carolina needs: The fewer possessions UNC has to play against the Jayhawks’ half-court defense, the better its chances. Lots of transition points will take the pressure off the Tar Heel three-point shooters (who are unlikely to repeat Friday’s 11-for-21 accuracy).

    What Kansas needs: Getting back on defense will be absolutely essential because North Carolina’s wings can finish the break with the best. KU can also take a bite out of the Tar Heel running game by pounding the offensive glass and punishing Carolina for releasing early on the break.

    Pick: The Tar Heels have enough scorers to make things interesting, but unless James Michael McAdoo heats up and pulls Jeff Withey away from the rim, Kansas is too tough in the half court to lose on transition points alone.

3. Dorian Green vs. Louisville’s Guards

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    Colorado State’s Dorian Green absolutely destroyed Missouri with a game-high 26 points on Thursday. His reward: a showdown with one of the nation’s toughest defensive backcourts, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith.

    When to Watch: Colorado State vs. Louisville (Saturday, 5:15 p.m. ET)

    What Colorado State needs: The Rams wouldn’t mind seeing Green light up the points column again, but however much he scores, he has to make smart decisions with the ball. There aren’t many holes in the Louisville defense, and it’s going to be Green’s job to find them and exploit them.

    What Louisville needs: The Cardinals don’t want to play half-court offense against CSU’s size. Siva and Smith need to force Green into mistakes—not an easy task this season—to create transition opportunities.

    Pick: Louisville’s D smells blood after its record-setting 20-steal performance against North Carolina A&T. Green is playing well but not well enough to get him through this gauntlet.

2. Iowa State’s Shooters vs. Ohio State’s Wing Defenders

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    Iowa State, the nation’s top three-point shooting team, lit up Notre Dame in Friday’s blowout win. Their reward is a meeting with one of the longest, toughest defenses in college hoops: the Ohio State Buckeyes.

    When to Watch: Iowa State vs. Ohio State (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)

    What Iowa State needs: Even if they don’t shoot 9-for-21 again (as they did against the Irish), the Cyclones have to get enough good looks to score 20 or more from beyond the arc. Georges Niang isn’t going to have 19 points against the Buckeye forwards, so the ISU guards must pick up the slack.

    What Ohio State needs: Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6’4”), Sam Thompson (6’7”) and LaQuinton Ross (6’7”) have to get their hands in the faces of the smaller Cyclone shooters. If Aaron Craft can force a bunch of turnovers again after his six-steal showcase against Iona, so much the better.

    Pick: Ohio State hasn’t faced an offense quite like ISU, but the Buckeyes did beat sweet-shooting Indiana in Bloomington. Even the Cyclones don’t have as many scoring options to worry about as the Hoosiers, so an OSU win is a good bet here.

1. Virginia Commonwealth’s Pressure vs. Michigan’s Guards

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    This year’s Big Dance will provide no better example of the irresistible force against the immovable object than VCU-Michigan. The Rams force the most turnovers in the country, while the Wolverines commit the fewest.

    When to Watch: VCU vs. Michigan (Saturday, 12:15 p.m. ET)

    What VCU needs: Even if they don’t get their usual gaudy steal totals, the Rams must keep Michigan from settling into its half-court offense. Even VCU can’t stop Trey Burke in a one-on-one matchup, but as a team they can harass him and limit his chances of taking over.

    What Michigan needs: Burke must keep his composure and avoid letting the Rams speed him up. There will occasionally be quick shots worth taking against the press, but on the whole, the Wolverines will be better served by patience against this frenetic D.

    Pick: Preparing for VCU’s havoc defense with just a single off day is a beast of a task. Burke will get his points, but even he won’t be able to stave off a Ram victory.