The two Sweet 16 games with the smallest point spreads Thursday could be decided by the same factor.
Duke Blue Devils star Paolo Banchero and Bennedict Mathurin of the Arizona Wildcats will be the best players on the floor in their respective matchups.
Mathurin proved that he can power Arizona to a victory with his performance in the second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, scoring 30 points in the overtime win over the TCU Horned Frogs.
Banchero produced 36 points over the first weekend of the Big Dance, and his abilities could be vital for Duke as it deals with a tough defensive matchup.
The Texas Tech Red Raiders and Houston Cougars will be competitive because of their defensive prowess, but if the opposing stars take over, they could be headed for a Sweet 16 exits.
Thursday Sweet 16 Schedule and Odds
No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (-9.5) (Over/Under: 155) (7:09 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 2 Villanova (-5) (O/U: 135.5) (7:29 p.m. ET, TBS)
No. 3 Texas Tech (-1) vs. No. 2 Duke (O/U: 137) (9:39 p.m. ET, CBS)
No. 5 Houston vs. No. 1 Arizona (-1.5) (O/U: 145.5) (9:59 p.m. ET, TBS)
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Duke (+1)
Duke enters San Francisco with extra pressure compared to the other 15 teams left in the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils are playing with the prospect of every game potentially being the last one of Mike Krzyzewski's coaching career.
Duke dealt well with its second-round threat from the Michigan State Spartans and should rely on its star power to set up a potential rematch with the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Banchero stands two inches taller than Texas Tech's tallest starter, and he has the agility needed to cut through the Red Raiders defense to either score a few key baskets or dish out to open teammates when in a pinch.
AJ Griffin's availability is also a huge positive for the Blue Devils. Krzyzewski told reporters Wednesday that Griffin's ankle is "fine," per Luke DeCock of the News and Observer.
Duke comes into Thursday ranked fourth on KenPom.com in offensive adjusted efficiency, ninth in effective field-goal percentage, ninth in two-point offense and 29th in three-point offense.
The Blue Devils' efficient offense and Banchero's athleticism could wreak havoc on a Texas Tech defense that ranks first on KenPom in defensive adjusted efficiency.
Texas Tech will not back down from the challenge. After all, this is a team that twice beat the Baylor Bears and defeated the Kansas Jayhawks in Big 12 play.
The Red Raiders lack a high-end closer like Banchero or Griffin. They have five players who average more than nine points per game, but four of them average between nine and 10 points per contest.
Texas Tech thrives as a unit, but it needs one of its starters to match the offensive production of Duke's stars to come out with a victory.
Banchero will be tough to handle for 40 minutes, and if the game is as close as the line suggests, one or two shots from the freshman down the stretch could make the difference.
No. 5 Houston vs. No. 1 Arizona (-1.5)
Arizona brings a set of skills to the court that few teams can match up with.
The Wildcats have a lottery pick leading the offense in Mathurin, who took over in the second half and overtime against TCU in the second round.
The Pac-12 regular-season and tournament champion received a boost from Christian Koloko against the Horned Frogs, with the seven-footer adding 28 points.
Mathurin should be willing to take more big shots Thursday, but for Arizona to be close with Houston, it needs more from its supporting cast in the first 30 minutes.
Kerr Kriisa could be the perfect secondary scorer to step up. The sophomore guard used the past weekend to test out the sprained ankle he suffered during the Pac-12 tournament. His three-point shooting could be a vital asset to opening up lanes and shots for Mathurin late in the game.
Keeping Mathurin in one-on-one situations is key for Arizona because Houston has so much length in its defense.
Fabian White and Taze Moore will make life tough on Mathurin, but if other players make shots early, the Arizona star could be left to take over individual matchups in the second half in the manner he did against TCU.
Houston should stick around for the entire 40 minutes because of its defense. The Cougars rank in the top 10 in four defensive categories on KenPom. The Cougars also have Final Four experience under Kelvin Sampson, and that should help them deal with the pressure of playing a top seed.
Arizona possesses the best player on the floor, and if Mathurin comes up with a few huge shots in the clutch, the Wildcats should advance to Saturday's regional final.
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