Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday

After a few days to digest the Madness of last weekend, we’re back at it tomorrow. Four games on the slate tomorrow to determine half of the Elite 8. Let’s take a look at our participants and what they need to do to advance.

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Syracuse escaped making history on the tournament’s first day and pulled away late in the second round against Kansas St. The loss of Fab Melo had made the Orange look much more beatable, but Jim Boeheim’s club still made it to the second weekend.

Wisconsin easily handled Montana in its first game and then knocked off a red hot Vanderbilt team in the second. Bo Ryan’s team plays stellar defense and held a strong Commodores offense to 43% from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc.

Both teams rank in the top 20 in the nation in both offensive (20th Wisc. & 4th Cuse) and defensive (4th Wisc. & 15th Cuse) efficiency. With the statistics being so close, I like to lean to the team with the best player, and that would be Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor. I think he gives the Badger’s the edge in a game that will likely be close down the stretch.

#4 Louisville vs #1 Michigan State (7:45 TBS)

No one is surprised to see Tom Izzo in the Sweet 16. His team cruised in the opening round against LIU and won a close game in a tough second round match-up with Rick Majerus’ St. Louis team. Senior forward Draymond Green is the heart and soul of this team, doing a little bit of everything to help the Spartans win. Their ferocious defense plus efficient offense makes this team extremely dangerous.

Louisville has been an enigma this season. They were ranked as high as 4th in the polls in late December before losing 5 of their next 7. They followed that up with a six game winning streak, but lost 4 of their final 6 games and limped into the Big East Tournament. Once in, Rick Pitino’s team won four games in four days and claimed the tournament title. In the NCAA tournament, Louisville won two close games against Davidson and New Mexico for a right to face the Big Ten champion.

This game features two very good defenses, with Michigan State’s slow, grinding man to man and Louisville’s high energy press and trap. The Spartans are much better on offense and feature the game’s best player in Draymond Green. If the Cardinals want to have a chance to win this game they will need to stop Green and get hot from the outside, somewhere they have struggled much of the year.

#6 Cincinnati vs #2 Ohio State (9:45 CBS)

The Buckeyes have somehow managed to fly under the radar so far in this tournament. They have a ton of returning talent, barely lost a classic game in the Big Ten final and have looked impressive in their first two NCAA games. In terms of talent, Ohio State stacks up with the best of them. Super sophomores Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas control the paint, senior William Buford knocks down the big shots and point guard Aaron Craft orchestrates it all.

Cincinnati has been a resilient group this season. Starting with the infamous brawl with rival Xavier and ending with the upset win over Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, the Bearcats have experience the full range of emotions on the court this year. They survived a furious comeback from Texas in the first round and followed it up with a shocking win over a trendy Final Four pick in Florida State. Nothing sticks out about this team statistically, but Mick Cronin has his team believing in themselves and they find ways to win.

There’s no way anyone other than the parents of the players would pick Cincinnati to win this game. The Buckeyes are statistically better in every aspect of the game, but if it’s close at the end I certainly would not be shocked to see Cincy pull it out.

#7 Florida vs #3 Marquette (10:17 TBS)

This isn’t the way you want to begin your Sweet 16. Underage clubbing scandals aside, this Marquette team has played well this season. They went 14-4 in the Big East before losing to Louisville in the conference tournament. In the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend, they easily handled BYU and then defeated Murray State 62-53, in what was essentially a road game. However one thing that sticks out about Marquette’s season is that they are 0-2 against the SEC this year, losing both to bottom dweller LSU and a talented Vanderbilt squad.

Florida is seeded a bit lower than they deserve, but that is because they struggled so much down the stretch. This team has top 10 talent and spent some time high in the polls before falling apart during the second half of conference play. Billy Donovan seems to have righted the ship now as the Gators had two blowout victories during the tournament’s first weekend over Virginia (71-45) and Norfolk State (84-50).

Tempo will be the key to this game. Marquette will try to keep this game played at a high rate, while Florida will try and slow it down. Florida has the 3rd most efficient offense in the country, scoring 121.3 points per 100 possessions but they’ve struggled on the defensive end. Marquette is well balanced on both ends of the floor. Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom give the Eagles a great 1-2, inside/outside punch but the Gators have their own in Patrick Young and Kenny Boynton. Florida also has a distinct size advantage, but are athletic enough to keep up with Marquette. I’ll take the Gators to win this one.

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