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NCAA Tournament 2019: Schedule, Top X-Factors for Sweet 16 Bracket

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2019

Zion Williamson and Duke were on the verge of losing in the second round but managed to survive and advance.
Zion Williamson and Duke were on the verge of losing in the second round but managed to survive and advance.Sean Rayford/Associated Press

The NCAA tournament is through the preliminaries and heading to the serious business of deciding the national championship.

The first two rounds are in the books, and 16 teams are left to compete. It will take four more rounds to win the championship, but it will be difficult for any of the games to top what happened between Duke and UCF.

The second-round matchup was interesting on its face, as UCF had the biggest player in the nation in 7'6" Tacko Fall competing against the most explosive and exciting player in the nation in Zion Williamson.

Then there was the matchup of coaches: Mike Krzyzewski facing his former star player and assistant coach, Johnny Dawkins.

The scenario was five-star, and the game itself turned out to be even better. UCF had Duke on the ropes, leading by three points into what appeared to be the final possession. Williamson took the ball right at Fall, made the layup over him and drew the foul.

While Williamson missed the free throw, R.J. Barrett gathered the rebound and quickly scored, giving the Blue Devils a 77-76 lead. 

UCF had one more possession, and B.J. Taylor attempted a short jump shot that just missed. Aubrey Dawkins got the offensive rebound and put up a shot that rolled onto the rim and fell off. The Knights had played a heroic game but fell just short.

Dawkins and Krzyzewski embraced after the game, and the tournament had its first huge moment.

There will surely be several more.

          

Thursday, March 28

West Region, Anaheim, California

Florida State (4) vs. Gonzaga (1), 7:09 p.m., CBS

Texas Tech (3) vs. Michigan (2), 9:39 p.m., CBS

           

South Region, Louisville, Kentucky

Purdue (3) vs. Tennessee (2), 7:29 p.m., TBS

Oregon (12) vs. Virginia (1), 9:59 p.m., TBS

              

Friday, March 29

East Region, Washington, DC

LSU (3) vs. Michigan State (2), 7:09 p.m., CBS

Virginia Tech (4) vs. Duke (1), 9:39 p.m., CBS

            

Midwest Region, Kansas City, Missouri

Auburn (5) vs. North Carolina (1), 7:29 p.m., TBS

Houston (3) vs. Kentucky (2), 9:59 p.m., TBS

              

Potential X-factors in the Sweet 16

Duke got through a brutally tough game and easily could have been eliminated in the second round. However, now that it is through, it will have a chance to catch its breath and get prepared for Virginia Tech in the third round.

When a team comes through a close call like that, that may be just the impetus it needs to play its best basketball. As long as the Blue Devils don't have to face another 7'6" force in the middle like Fall, they may just be prepared for a championship run.

Michigan State had its difficult game when it faced Bradley in the first round.

However, the Spartans were much sharper and more explosive in the second round against Minnesota as they registered a 70-50 victory. While Cassius Winston is the Michigan State leader and head coach Tom Izzo depends on him to ignite the offense and set the tone, sophomore forward Xavier Tillman has been a key factor in both games.

The 20-year-old scored 14 points in the win over the Braves, and he contributed 11 rebounds in the win over the Gophers. The Spartans need contributions from an X-factor, and Tillman could fill that role in the next round.

Texas Tech is one of the top defensive teams in the nation, and that was on display in each of the Red Raiders' first two victories. However, what was not expected was the perfect shooting of forward Tariq Owens and center Norense Odiase. Both players went 4-of-4 for the Red Raiders in their second-round win over the Buffalo Braves.

If they can come close to matching that kind of shooting in the third round against Michigan, it could be the X-factor the Red Raiders need to survive and advance.

Auburn is a team that has picked up a couple of victories and will be taking on North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

The No. 5 seed has made 25 three-point shots in its first two games, but the Tar Heels will defend Auburn's three-point shooting and the Tigers will have to find another route.

The X-factor could turn out to be Auburn's aggressive defense. The Tigers have forced 32 turnovers in two tournament games. If they can continue to force 16 turnovers per game, they will have a good chance to compete with North Carolina for 40 minutes and possibly win. The defense is the X-factor in that game for Auburn.

Carsen Edwards is Purdue's leading scorer, as he averages 23.0 points per game. However, he averaged 17.4 points in the three games leading up to the tournament and did not appear to be in his best form. Additionally, he is connecting on 34.6 percent of his three-point shots during the season.

The 21-year-old turned that around in the Boilermakers' 87-61 second-round win over Villanova. He made 9-of-16 three-point attempts as the Wildcats suffered their worst tournament defeat.

If Edwards can continue to hit his three-point shots the way he did against the Wildcats, Purdue may be ready for success when it faces Tennessee in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.

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