Yesterday we saw our first #1 seed fall in Michigan State. Will we see another tonight? This evening’s game should be really good. There are some great story lines and intriguing match ups so let’s get right to it.
#10 Xavier vs #3 Baylor (7:15 CBS)
Baylor survived a first round scare from a very good South Dakota State team and then turned a close first half against Colorado into a 17 point win in the second round. The Bears are one of the deepest teams remaining in the tournament, with eight players seeing significant minutes each game. Baylor is extremely talented and all five starters averaged over 10 points per game this year. Sophomore Perry Jones III has game changing ability but has struggled with consistency this year. If he is playing well, this team is very difficult to beat. They are a long, athletic team that rebounds and shoots well.
Xavier comes into this game after wins over Notre Dame and Lehigh. The Musketeers rallied after their infamous brawl with rival Cincinnati early in the year to make their fourth Sweet 16 in five years. They are led by Tu Holloway, one of the best point guards in the country. If you haven’t watched him play, you are missing out. Nothing statistically jumps out at you with this team, but if you believe in experience this team has it and are a resilient group.
One match up to watch tonight is Tu Holloway vs Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson. Both players are the key to their team’s offense, so if you can slow them down your chances of winning go up dramatically. Down low, sever foot senior Kenny Frease and Perry Jones will battle it out. In Baylor’s first two wins, Jones only scored 9 total points. If he doesn’t play well again tonight, the Bears could be headed home.
#13 Ohio vs #1 North Carolina (7:45 TBS)
Unless you’re just waking up from a St. Patrick’s Day induced coma, you know what the big story is in this game. Kendall Marshall’s wrist. He had successful surgery on Monday and is already out of his cast. Some are hopeful he will play, while others are not. Some seemingly normal adults are even drawing a “5” on their wrists to show support. This game, and the rest of the Heels tournament, is almost entirely dependent on if Marshall can play. Simply put, he is the best pure point guard in the nation and runs UNC’s offense extremely well. Dexter Strickland, his backup, was lost to an ACL tear earlier this year, leaving the team with extremely limited options now. Freshman Stillman White and Senior Justin Watts will have to do their best to initiate Roy Williams fast paced offense.
I’ll be honest. I don’t know that much about Ohio. If you do, then your son probably plays on the team. The Bobcats now have my full attention though. They enter the Sweet 16 after defeating a very good Michigan team in the first round and an underrated South Florida team in the second. Ohio is 4th in the nation in steals and 2nd in the nation in Turnover %. I wouldn’t take these guys lightly, especially if you’re without your starting point guard. Junior guard DJ Cooper is the best player on the team averaging 15 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals a game.
If Marshall plays, and plays effectively North Carolina should win this game easily. If he doesn’t play, or struggles they could be in for a long night. Ohio’s guards could give the Heels thin backcourt fits. Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes are all future NBA players but without Marsall leading the attack this team struggles.
#4 Indiana vs #1 Kentucky
Kentucky enters the Sweet 16 after two relatively easy wins in Western Kentucky and Iowa State. The Cyclones tested the Cats for a bit before the game got out of hand in the second half. The Wildcats are the heavy favorites to win this tournament, but will have to get past the only team to beat them in the regular season to do so. In the first meeting with Indiana, Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis was on the bench in foul trouble. Since then, he hasn’t had more than 3 fouls in a game. Sophomore Terrance Jones also struggled in the first meeting, scoring only 4 points. The first game in December was a long time ago and this team has improved dramatically since. Freshman point guard, and Indiana native, Marquis Teague has hit his stride under Coach Calipari and the UK offense is much more efficient because of it. Kentucky is one of only two teams (Ohio State) that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Tom Crean has done a tremendous job at IU this year. The Hoosiers have possibly the best collection of wins in the country, defeating Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan State. So far in the NCAA tournament, Indiana has defeated New Mexico State and last year’s Cinderella, VCU. Freshman Cody Zeller is having a sensational year, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding. His matchup with Anthony Davis should be really fun to watch. A major difference with Indiana now and when they played Kentucky in December is the loss of senior guard Verdell Jones. While not one of their stars, Jones was an important glue player for the team. He played great defense and did a little of everything on offense. He even assisted on the game winning 3 pointer Christian Watford made against UK in the first meeting. His loss is big.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way. In the first meeting, Indiana hit 60% from the three point line and will need to be red hot again to have a chance in this game. Kentucky has improved drastically since December and seems focused on bringing a title home to Lexington. They are even downplaying the revenge factor of this game. The loss of Jones is really going to hurt Indiana defensively. Jones was a good perimeter defender who disrupted the UK offense back in December. Without him, the Hoosiers will need to rely on freshman Remey Abell to give them solid minutes off the bench while guarding either Teague or sharpshooter Doron Lamb. Anything is possible in March, but Indiana certainly has their hands full tonight.
#11 NC State vs #2 Kansas (10:17 TBS)
Kansas finds its way to the Sweet 16 after wins over Detroit and Purdue. The Jayhawks did not look good against Purdue and Bill Self’s propensity for 2nd round losses jumped into the minds of many. However, his team gathered themselves at the half and rallied to win despite shooting 33% from the floor and 25% from 3. They are led by senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor and Player of the Year candidate and forward, Thomas Robinson. The duo combine for nearly 35 points a game with Taylor dishing out 4.5 assists and Robinson grabbing nearly 12 rebounds per game. The Jayhawks aren’t that deep with only 6 players seeing major minutes. As a team Kanas ranks 5th in defensive efficiency, with Louisville and Kentucky the only two teams ahead of them still remaining. Kansas is a good shooting team, making 48% of their shots on the season.
NC State is playing great basketball at the right time. The Wolfpack got hot in the ACC tournament, winning two games before losing a heartbreaker to UNC in the semifinals. They have used that momentum to help them upset 6th seeded San Diego St and 3rd seeded Georgetown. In terms of talent, NC State has plenty. Sophomore point guard Lorenzo Brown has turned up his game late in the season as have forwards CJ Leslie and Richard Howell. All five starters are averaging double figures this year, so opposing defenses are unable to key in on one or two players. Scott Wood is one of the best three point shooters in the country and has recently emerged from a late season shooting slump. Free throw shooting has been a problem for this team late in games.
Kansas has the best two players on the floor in Taylor and Robinson, but NC State might actually be the more talented team from top to bottom. Richard Howell and CJ Leslie will have their hands full down low with Robinson and Withey, but their experience playing against North Carolina’s frontline should serve them well. Obviously, the Wolfpack have to stay out of foul trouble to have a chance in this game. Defensively, Kansas will have to play solid as a team. NC State has shooters outside and scorers down low. Leslie and Brown are capable of beating their man off the dribble and slashing to the basket. Kansas is a better rebounding team and will look to use this advantage for second chance opportunities on offense. I’m not calling for an upset in this game, but it should be much closer than many think.
Enjoy the games tonight!