Previewing the Most Intriguing Sweet 16 Matchups
With upsets, no-name players emerging as tournament stars and catchy team nicknames like 'Dunk City,' March Madness offers the ultimate package for college basketball fans. To their pleasure, it is only going to get sweeter.
The Sweet 16 will take place Thursday and Friday and certainly provides mouth-watering heavyweight match-ups along with feisty mid-majors battling for the right to continue dancing.
Parity is a beautiful thing.
This slideshow will preview three of the more intriguing Sweet 16 games: La Salle vs. Wichita State, Duke vs. Michigan State and Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast.
(9) Wichita State vs. (13) La Salle
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Either the Wichita State Shockers or La Salle Explorers will be included in the Elite 8 come Saturday, playing with a Final Four berth on the line. Let that sink in.
We all know how both these teams got to this point, so what should we expect when these teams take the court on Thursday night in Los Angeles, with a 10:17 p.m. EDT tip-off?
The secret is out that La Salle is guard-heavy, which still could be an understatement. This is a team that has perfected the art of driving and kicking. Guards Tyreek Duren and Ramon Galloway are skilled ball-handlers who have an uncanny knack of slashing through defenses and passing out to an open shooter, usually to one another.
Tyrone Garland, the hero of Sunday's win over Mississippi, is as quick as they come in terms of speed with the ball. While he can be out of control at times, Garland creates space for the aforementioned Duren and Galloway.
Garland is also exceptional at reading passes and jumping lanes. In a tournament where every possession counts, Garland "steals" points, both literally and figuratively.
Wichita State, on the other hand, is a polar opposite of La Salle, or at least it will seem that way come Thursday by inevitably attacking the rim.
The Shockers rely on big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall to act as beasts down low, snatching rebounds and keeping possessions alive. Early is especially dangerous because he can post-up yet also pop out for jumpers.
Freshman guards Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet can't be overlooked. The two do not shy away from the moment, and will be relied on in the backcourt to create for themselves and their trusty forwards. Look for these two to get plenty of open looks on double downs from La Salle defenders on Early and Hall.
Question of the game: Can La Salle guards knock down enough shots to withstand the inevitable lopsided margin in both rebounding and points in the paint by Wichita State?
(2) Duke vs. (3) Michigan State
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Mike Krzyzewski vs. Tom Izzo. Does it get any better than that? Two of the most elite programs in the country led by two of the most respected coaches nationally. This should be a fun one.
The Blue Devils and Spartans will tip it off at approximately 9:45 p.m. EDT Friday night in Indianapolis.
Duke's engine is propelled by senior forward Mason Plumlee and senior guard Seth Curry. With a clear advantage in the front-court going to the Spartans, Duke's guard play will determine how this game plays out. Curry is certainly capable of creating his own shot, an invaluable tool to have when the offense runs stagnant.
The return of Ryan Kelly has been a big boost to the Blue Devils. His outside shooting threat prevents defenses from doubling down on Plumlee, allowing the forward to go to work against a single defender, usually a mismatch, but perhaps not on Friday.
Freshman point guard Quinn Cook needs to control the tempo of this game and not force turnovers, something he has been able to do consistently all season.
Michigan State loves to utilize their big boys down low in Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. If Mason Plumlee is big, Derrick Nix is huge. Nix will be quite the load for Plumlee to handle and will be a great matchup to keep an eye on.
Payne and Nix are vacuums on the glass, swallowing up rebounds. They are capable of grabbing offensive rebounds and finishing strong or finding open shooters.
If the forwards for Michigan State are struggling to score, their main two guards, Keith Appling and Gary Harris, are capable of scoring in bunches. Appling and Harris provide a one-two punch in the Spartan backcourt that, coupled with Nix and Payne down low, provides a dangerous combination.
Look for Michigan State to feed their big men constantly and if it isn't broken, they won't see a need to fix it.
Question of the game: Can Seth Curry and Co.'s three point shooting overcome the clear-cut physical advantage down low that Michigan State has in Nix and Payne?
(3) Florida vs. (15) Florida Gulf Coast
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The improbable run continues for the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles as they will face off against Billy Donovan's Florida Gators. 'Dunk City,' a nickname the FGCU squad has adopted, is certainly a talented group, but will they run out of gas against a Florida team who has likewise been very impressive thus far?
The two Florida-based schools will play this Sweet 16 match-up in Arlington, Texas, with the tip-off at approximately 9:57 p.m. EDT Friday night.
The Florida Gators have looked pretty dominant thus far in the tournament for the most part. They play efficient basketball and take good shots, a gold star for NCAA Tournament play.
Forward/center Erik Murphy is a nightmare for opponents. He is a 6'10" player that can catch the ball down low or spot up from three-point land, a recipe for success against a rather undersized FGCU squad.
Senior guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario lead a back-court capable of scoring and creating at will. Florida is one of the rare teams in the tournament in which all five players are capable of scoring a handful of points. I look for Murphy to lead the charge early and often, opening up driving lanes for the speedy guards of Florida.
We know Florida Gulf Coast is not scared of anybody. We also know they are extremely athletic and can jump out of the gym. Senior guard Sherwood Brown is this team's bread and butter. He leads them in scoring and rebounding as well as being an emotional leader on the court.
The X-factor in this game is Brett Comer, a sophomore guard who can create his own shot but more importantly set up teammates. Comer leads his team in assists and his passing and dribble penetration will help open up the lane for dump offs to big men for easy baskets or kick-out to open shooters like Brown.
The Eagles are a tad undersized down low in comparison to the Gators, meaning FGCU forward Chase Fieler is going to have to scrap for rebounds and attempt to limit the Gators to one shot each possession. The task is much easier said than done.
Question of the game: Will Florida Gulf Coast's athletic attacking style of play be enough to compete with the inside and outside consistent scoring depth of Florida?