Kentucky, K-State, Syracuse, West Virginia Sweet 16 Winners

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Kentucky, K-State, Syracuse, West Virginia Sweet 16 Winners
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This year's edition of the Sweet Sixteen includes some mainstays as well as some upstarts. Here is a breakdown of the four games coming at us on Thursday.

Syracuse vs. Butler

Guards

The Orange have arguably the best backcourt in college basketball. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine bring different elements to the table at the point and Andy Rautins is the definitive team leader and three-point sharpshooter. This is enough for most teams to think about but Wesley Johnson also slides between small forward and guard and can shoot the three.

Butler has a nice combo of Shelvin Mack, Willie Veasley and Ronald Nored but are a little undersized to handle the Syracuse group. They need to control the pace and hit a high percentage of their threes to try and stretch the Syracuse zone.

Edge: Syracuse

Forwards

Rick Jackson struggle on Sunday against Gonzaga, showing that he is more suited to a complementary role as a post player. Kris Joseph can be explosive as well and the versatile Johnson will be used in some situations up front as well. The health of Arinze Onuaku is an issue. He would be a huge asset in this game to expose Butler's depth down low.

Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward are a solid duo. Hayward is actually a combo guard/forward much like Johnson. After that, the Bulldogs are very thin. Howard has a history of getting into foul trouble and if this is the case Thursday, the game could be over before halftime.

Edge: Syracuse

Keys to the Game

Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins destroyed Gonzaga as the Zags were unable to match up well with the Syracuse guards. Gordon Hayward is a solid two-way player that needs to be able to shut down one of the two. Rautins is the guy. When he struggles, Syracuse tends to struggle and Johnson can do so many things it would be tough for anyone to shut him down.  The Bulldogs also need to shoot threes with some proficiency and attack the back of the zone quickly with a baseline runner.

In the End...

Syracuse is too athletically gifted in all positions for Butler to handle. It's hard to count out a team that has won 22 in a row but their relative lack of size and depth up front will hurt. The 'Cuse moves on.

Washington vs. West Virginia

Guards

Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla have both struggled at the point for the Mountaineers. Steady play from either of them would be huge. Da'Sean Butler has been the saviour for the team and needs another big game. These guys will defend as hard as anyone.

The Huskies' Isaiah Thomas was outstanding against Marquette and New Mexico, handing out 15 assists while turning it over only 3 times. He also averaged 17 points per game. Venoy Overton and Elston Turner, who was solid in both wins as well, are capable contributors as well.

Edge: Washington

Forwards

This could be where West Virginia's depth shows up. The Mountaineers have any number of forwards to play any number of roles, although they lack a true center. Devin Ebanks leads a group that includes Kevin Jones, John Flowers, Wellington Smith and Cam Thoroughman.

Quincy Pondexter has been outstanding almost all season for the Huskies. However, help is limited in the front court. Matthew Bryan-Amaning is a steady, unspectacular player but Washington is very thin up front.

Edge: West Virginia

Keys to the Game

Pace. Washington has to try and get up and down, something Missouri was unable to do against WV. The Mountaineers are not a good shooting team so the Huskies have to try and grab the lead and put pressure on the Mountaineers to go quickly.

In the end...

Not many teams have been able to speed WV up and this game will be no different. West Virginia will keep winning ugly.

Xavier vs Kansas State

Guards

Kansas State is led by the explosive tandem of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen, either of whom can get hot and stay hot. Both are also good defensively and can be distributors as well. Martavius Irving and Rodney McGruder add some depth, but not much scoring, off of the bench.

Jordan Crawford will draw the most attention from KSU defenders. His ability to shoot from long distance and to drive to the hoop make him an ongoing concern. Terrell Holloway has emerged as a solid point man who doesn't turn it over. Dante Jackson is a solid defender and can knock down shots if necessary. Mark Lyons and Brad Redford add more depth.

Edge: Even

Forwards

Where to begin? Jamar Samuels, the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year has been superb coming off of the bench this season. Add in Dominique Sutton, Wally Judge, Luis Colon and Curtis Kelly, all of whom contribute on the boards, and this front court can be nasty. Offensive rebounds are their specialty.

Jason Love has emerged as a leader and clutch performer for Xavier this season. Jamel McLean has been solid at both ends and is second to Love in rebounding. Kenny Frease is another big body down low who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, either.

Edge: Kansas State

Keys to the Game

If Xavier big men can stay out of foul trouble, the Musketeers may be able to avenge and earlier 15-point loss to the Wildcats. KSU will have trouble matching up against Crawford as almost every other team does but should be able to control Holloway and company. K State needs to value the ball every possession - turnovers can be their Achilles heel.

In the end...

This will be a close game. Xavier is a very, very good team. So is Kansas State. Their ability to rebound, especially in the offensive zone will determine the outcome of this game. The Wildcats move on.

Cornell vs. Kentucky

Guards

Louis Dale has been a lesser-known entity until this tournament - always steady but spectacular in the first two games against Temple and Wisconsin, two very good defensive teams. Chris Wroblewski and Geoff Reeves are good outside shooters to compliment their point man.

What hasn't been said about John Wall. Well, okay then, I won't say it. He controls the game with his speed and his ability to simply make plays, whether it be shots or passes. Eric Bledsoe can shoot the lights out and DeAndre Liggins, Darnell Dodson  and Darius Miller provide size and depth in the backcourt.

Edge: Kentucky

Forwards

Jeff Foote is a solid big man in the post, offensively and defensively but the star is Ryan Wittman who averages 17 points per game and shoots 43% from three-point range. Jon Jacques provides some offense but Wittman will be the primary focus of the Wildcat defence.

DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson are the best duo in the country. They score, they defend and they create huge match-up problems for opposing teams. Daniel Orton would start on most teams that are still in the tournament as well. Patterson has deferred to teammates for most of the season and is due for a huge game.

Edge: Kentucky

Keys to the Game

Cornell has to shoot well - and they usually do. They won't be flustered playing Kentucky, especially since they should have some support this close to home. Kentucky has to use their advantage inside early and often. Cornell lacks overall depth and any foul trouble is serious for them. If the Big Red can force Kentucky, somehow, to shoot threes, then they have a shot.

In the end...

Much as I, and many others who like the underdog, want to see Cornell prevail, Kentucky has too many weapons and too much talent. The Big Red haven't seen defence like they will see on Thursday. Kentucky wins.

 

 

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