Ranking the 4 Biggest Mismatches in the Elite 8
Indiana was a better team than Syracuse this season. The Hoosiers won the Big Ten, and the Orange lost seven of 11 games to end the regular season.
But in a single-elimination tournament and equipped with a zone defense that exposed Indiana and Cody Zeller's weaknesses, Syracuse cruised to victory in the Sweet 16.
At this point in the tournament, all of the teams are good. Everyone is here for a reason, and everyone will get sent home for a reason. It's about the matchups and who can exploit who. (Tom Crean nods.)
Here are four potential mismatches in the Elite Eight that could play a big role in deciding who ends up in Atlanta.
4. Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Florida's Guards
Florida has some of the best defensive guards in the country, but none have the size to match up with Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Hardaway, at 6'6", thrives when he can rise up and shoot over his opponent. The Gators will likely guard Hardaway with Mike Rosario, who is 6'3".
Much of the attention will be paid to stopping Trey Burke, but the Wolverines are at their best when Burke can get their other scorers involved. Michigan is 11-0 when Hardaway hits at least three treys this season.
3. Duke's Quinn Cook vs. Louisville's Press
You're not alone, Quinn Cook. Any point guard against this press is a mismatch in favor of the men doing the pressing.
The Cardinals have forced starting point guards into 12 turnovers in three tourney games thus far. Going into the Oregon game, Louisville was forcing a turnover on nearly one out of every three possessions.
Though Quinn had four giveaways against Louisville's pressure in a 76-71 Duke win in the Bahamas on Nov. 24, the Blue Devils had only 14 turnovers as a team in that game.
It will take that kind of ball security to knock off the Cardinals on Sunday.
2. Marquette's Davante Gardner vs. Syracuse's Zone
Indiana looked lost against the Syracuse zone. The way to beat the zone is to get the ball into the middle or to the baseline. The Hoosiers could not do that with regularity, and when they did get the ball into the interior, Cody Zeller looked uncomfortable trying to attack.
The player who probably had the most success attacking Syracuse's zone, either from the middle of the zone or the block this season, was Marquette's Davante Gardner. He was the anti-Zeller.
Gardner has a great feel offensively, with the ability to knock down a 17-footer or get to the block and muscle his way into a good shot or get to the line. He scored 26 points on 7-of-7 shooting from the floor and 12-of-13 at the free-throw line. He also had four offensive rebounds in Marquette's 74-71 win over Syracuse on Feb. 25.
He understands where to be against the zone and how to attack.
The Orange will likely try to limit Gardner's touches and surround him with defenders when he does get the ball. If this is the case, Gardner will need to be a willing passer. He had two assists in the first meeting.
1. Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas vs. Wichita State's Carl Hall
The two best stretch-4s in college basketball are Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas and Creighton's Doug McDermott. Both can simply get buckets from anywhere on the court.
Here are McDermott's scoring numbers in three games against Wichita State this year: 25 (loss), 41 (win) and 14 (win).
The Shockers used several defenders against McDermott, but the man who checked him for the most part in the 41-point game was Carl Hall. Hall looked uncomfortable trying to defend McDermott on the perimeter. (Watch these highlights for proof.)
The Buckeyes use pick-and-pop plays with Aaron Craft to isolate Thomas for open perimeter shots. Look for the Buckeyes to go to that with regularity when Hall is on Thomas.
It'll be interesting to see if Wichita State runs a double-team at Thomas. The way the other Buckeyes have been shooting, that could be a dangerous way to defend. So, they may take the opposite approach: let Thomas get his attempts and try to shut down the others.