The 2013 NCAA tournament field has been cut down to 16 teams, as Thursday marks the start of regional semifinal action.
While top-seeded powerhouses like Louisville and Indiana still remain the favorites to win it all, Cinderellas like Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon and La Salle have emerged as fan favorites. But it's all about matchups this time of year, and the team with the best one is almost always the one that advances.
Here we'll highlight a trio of teams with excellent matchups in the Sweet 16.
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No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes, West Region
The Ohio State Buckeyes look poised to return to the Final Four in 2013 after surviving an upset bid from seventh-seeded Iowa State on Sunday in Dayton.
Thad Matta's squad will take on sixth-seeded Arizona in Los Angeles on Thursday evening. But the Buckeyes will have few advantages in this matchup, including a reliable go-to scorer in Deshaun Thomas, who is averaging 19.5 points per game this season and 23 per game in the NCAA tournament.
In addition to Thomas, Ohio State features an exceptional floor general in Aaron Craft, an experienced junior who can create and score with any point guard in college basketball.
While the Wildcats boast talented seniors in Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill, the biggest question facing Arizona is whether Lyons can continue to score 25 points per game in this tournament, especially with Craft draped all over him on Thursday.
Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking 21st in scoring defense. The combination of defense and the Buckeyes' consistent star performers will halt Arizona en route to the Elite Eight on Thursday.
No. 3 Florida Gators, South Region
While some will say the Gators are in trouble on Friday night in Texas, others will say Florida lucked out considering it will take on 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast for the right to advance to the Elite Eight.
If you ask me, Florida lucked out.
After all, the Gators have more than enough firepower to hang with the Eagles, who are heading into uncharted territory as the first 15th-seeded team in NCAA tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16.
Florida's three-point shooting prowess has been discussed at length during the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, and that along with the Gators' ability to take care of the basketball should give Billy Donovan's squad a big boost in its South Regional semifinal.
Florida Gulf Coast averages nearly 15 turnovers per game this season and is averaging 13 per game in the tournament. On the other side, Florida is averaging just 11 turnovers per game for the season and 11 per game for the tournament.
Look for Florida Gulf Coast to make a few more mistakes on Friday as Florida turns up the pressure. Eagles point guard Brett Comer, who is averaging 3.5 turnovers per game this season, has just five total through two NCAA tournament wins in 2013. Don't expect him to maintain that pace.
No. 2 Miami Hurricanes, East Region
Jim Larranaga's Miami Hurricanes will face off against third-seeded Marquette on Thursday night in Washington, and while this game is an even matchup for the most part on paper, the Hurricanes' ability to stretch the floor and knock down the three-ball will be the deciding factor.
In two NCAA tournament games, Miami has already connected on more than twice as many three-pointers as Marquette, and is also shooting a much better percentage from beyond the arc.
While Buzz Williams' Golden Eagles are shooting just 33 percent from downtown through two tournament games, Miami is hitting nearly 45 percent from long range, making it one of the most lethal outside-shooting teams still dancing this March.
These numbers are no fluke either. Marquette is shooting just 30 percent from outside as a team this season, and making just over four three-pointers per game compared to Miami's 36 percent and seven three-pointers per game.
Shane Larkin and Co. will have a mighty advantage from distance on Thursday, making Miami the favorite to reach the East Regional final this year.
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