7:10 pm EDT #1 Florida (31-5) v. #5 Butler (29-6) -
The Florida Gators are probably the best-known starting five in college basketball. Since winning the tournament in 2006, all five returned to defend their championship. Emotional leader Joakim Noah teams with Al Horford in the frontcourt, while swingman Corey Brewer's slashing style complements the outside shooting of Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey. Their scoring is extremely balanced. While Horford leads the team in both scoring (13.3 ppg) and rebounding (9.3), Brewer averages 13.1, Green, 13.0, Noah, 12.1 and Humphrey, 9.9.
Humphrey is the top gun from outside, hitting 45% from beyond the arc. Sub Walter Hodge can provide instant offense with his 51% 3-point shooting. Green clicks at 39%. Besides Hodge, the Gators can also bring in a pair of talented and tall substitutes, Chris Richard and Marreese Speights, both of whom have solid interior games. While the Florida rotation is only 7 or at best, 8 deep, it's all it has to be as the Gators play excellent individual and team defense and all of the starters can score.
The Gators' opening round, 112-69 win over Jackson State resembled a Florida shoot-around, though the Purdue Boilermakers made them sweat a little in a 74-67 win. If Florida has an enemy it may be their own complacency. In their two games, they're rarely displayed the kind of passion and enthusiasm that sent them to the national championship last year.
Florida has a 9-3 record against tourney teams, with wins coming against Jackson State, Purdue, Kentucky (2), Arkansas (2), Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Ohio State. Their losses were to Kansas, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
The Butler Bulldogs play the ultimate underdog in their matchup with the Gators. Butler tied for the regular season title with Wright State in the Horizon League and lost to that same team in the conference tourney championship game. In their two NCAA tourney games, Butler ousted Old Dominion, 57-46, before dispatching Maryland in the second round, 62-59.
The Bulldogs rely on defense (allowing only 57 ppg) and deft 3-point shooting from guard A.J. Graves (36%) and forward Pete Campbell (51%), who usually comes in off the bench. Graves is the team's top scorer at 17.1 ppg, followed by point guard Mike Green (13.9) and forward Brandon Cole (11.4). Rebounding is a team affair, with Green getting the most, at 6 per game.
Butler has to play a tight, low-turnover game in order to win. Since they are height-challenged, they also need to take good shots and hit a high percentage. That has been the formula for their success.
Against tournament teams, the Bulldogs are an impressive 8-3. Wins came against Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Old Dominion, Maryland, Wright State and Purdue. The losses were to Wright St. (2) and Southern Illinois.
9:40 pm EDT #7 UNLV (30-6) v. #3 Oregon (28-7) - This is one of the more intriguing matchups of this round. Oregon escaped a slow down game with Miami (OH), 58-56, and then romped past Winthrop, 75-61. The Ducks finished third in the PAC-10, but then stomped to the conference tourney title in three lopsided games decided by an average margin of 20 points.
Oregon relies on quickness and high-percentage shooting. They are one of the smaller teams in remaining in the tournament, but they are likely the best ball-handling squad in the Sweet 16. Four of their five starters have positive assist-turnover ratios and three average more than a steal per game. All five starters score in double figures, led by Aaron Brooks at 17.8 ppg. Bryce Taylor and Tajuan Porter, both guards, average 14.6 and 14.2, respectively. Maarty Leunen and Malik Hairston, also the two leading rebounders, check in at 10.9.
The Ducks are deadly from beyond the arc. All five starters average 40% or better from 3-point range. If the Ducks are hitting their threes, they are almost impossible to beat. They've won their last 8 games.
Oregon was 10-5 against tournament teams, defeating Georgetown, UCLA, Arizona (2), USC, Stanford, Washington St. (2), Miami (OH) and Winthrop. Their losses were to UCLA, USC, (2) Arizona and Stanford.
UNLV flew under the radar most of the season, but came on late to grab second place in the Mountain West and then win the conference tourney for the automatic bid. They're on a 9-game win streak, including their two wins in the tournament, besting Georgia Tech, 67-63 in the opening round, and then pulling off the upset of #2-seed Wisconsin, 74-68.
The Runnin' Rebels are peaking at the right time and should prove to be a tough out. The bulk of their offense comes from their three starting guards, Wendell White (14.6), Wink Adams (14.1) and point guard Kevin Kruger (13.4). White is more of a swingman, doing almost all of his scoring inside. He rarely attempts 3-pointers. Michael Umeh averages just 7.7 per game, but he's been more effective in the tournament. The rebounding falls mostly to White and forward Gaston Essengue, at 6.2 and 5.0 per game, respectively.
The Rebels don't shoot well from beyond the arc. Kruger, Adams and Umeh all hit just about 36%. They are deep, however, with a 9-man rotation.
Against tournament teams, UNLV was 6-2. They recorded wins over Nevada, Texas Tech, BYU (2), Georgia Tech and Wisconsin, with losses to BYU and Arizona.
7:27 pm EDT #2 Georgetown (28-6) v. #6 Vanderbilt (22-11) - The Hoyas are on an impressive roll, having won 17 of their last 18 games, capturing both the Big East regular season and tournament titles in the process, not to mention a pair of big time wins, 80-55 over Belmont and 62-55 over Boston College in the first two rounds of the Big Dance.
Georgetown's success revolves around their two big men, 7'2" Roy Hibbert and 6'9" Jeff Green. They are 1-2 in scoring and rebounding on the team. Green 14.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Hibbert (12.7, 6.7) are possibly the best inside tandem in the country. The other three starters, Jonathon Wallace, Jesse Sapp and Dajuan Summers put up 11, 9 and 9 points per game, respectively and are backed up by the deepest bench in the tournament. The Hoyas can go 10 deep with players averaging at least 8 minutes.
If Hibbert and Green don't do enough damage inside, Georgetown can also bomb away from 3-point range. Wallace shoots it at 48% and 6'8" super sub Patrick Ewing, Jr. nails 3's at 47%. The Hoyas are easily the tallest team remaining and when they control the paint, they are virtually unbeatable.
The Hoyas are 12-5 against tourney teams, with wins over Belmont, Boston College, Oral Roberts, Pitt (2), Marquette, Notre Dame (2), Villanova (2), Louisville and Vanderbilt. Their losses were to Oregon, Old Dominion, Duke, Villanova and Pitt.
Vanderbilt is one of the lower-seeded teams, at #6, to get this far. Only UNLV (7) exceeds them. The Commodores were the surprise of the SEC, mostly due to the play of Derrick Byars and Shan Foster, their two leading scorers at 17.0 and 15.6. Complementing them is guard Dan Cage, who shoots 3's at 44%. Inside, forward Ross Neltner leads the team in rebounding at 5.7/game, but hitting the boards is more of a team effort. 7 different players average at least 2.5 boards per game.
Vanderbilt handily won their first round game against George Washington, 77-44. By contrast, their 78-74 second round win over Washington State took two overtimes.
Vandy is a good ball-handling team. Each of their starters has a positive assist-turnover ratio, with point guard Alex Gordon the best at better than 2-1. The Commodores rely on quickness, crisp passing, solid defense, a high free throw percentage and team rebounding. Of all the teams remaining in the tourney, the Commodores best exemplify the team play concept.
The Commodores went 7-5 against tourney teams. The wins came against George Washington, Washington State, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Kentucky (2) and Florida. Their losses were to Arkansas (2), Tennessee, Florida and Georgetown.
9:57 pm EDT #1 North Carolina (30-6) v. #5 USC (25-11) - Despite USC being a #5 vs. #1 North Carolina, this shapes up as a doozy of a matchup.
North Carolina is one of the deeper teams in the tourney. Coach Roy Williams wastes no time sending in subs, using 10 players and sometimes more in his rotation. the top 10 players for North Carolina average at least 10 minutes or more, and of the starters, only Tyler Hansbrough averages 30.
The Tar Heels cruised though the first two rounds of the tourney, whipping Eastern Kentucky, 86-65, before blasting Michigan State, 81-67 in the second round.
Hansbrough is a madman inside, with deft moves and a great shooting touch. He leads the team in scoring at 18.6 ppg, followed closely by fellow forward Brandan Wright (14.6). Point guard Ty Lawson averaged nearly a 3-1 assist-turnover ratio throughout the season. The rest of the team is full of role players who can all score and defend well in Williams' versatile motion offense.
North Carolina tied with Virginia in the ACC regular season, and won the ACC tourney. They weren't perfect down the stretch, but after consecutive road losses to Maryland and Georgia Tech, they've won 6 straight.
The Tar Heels are 14-5 against tournament teams. Their wins came over Eastern Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke (2), Boston College (2), Arizona, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Penn, Kentucky, Ohio State, Tennessee and Winthrop. They lost games to Gonzaga, Maryland, Virginia Tech (2) and Georgia Tech.
USC finished 2nd in the PAC-10 and lost in the championship game of the conference tourney to Oregon. In the NCAA, they've cruised past two quality opponents, whipping Arkansas, 77-60, and then dominating Texas, 87-68 in a game that was ostensibly decided by halftime.
The Trojans rely on timely shooting, ball movement and stellar defense. If they can shut down an opponent early, they have enough offense to keep just about any team at bay. Swingman Nick Young is their leading scorer at 17.8 ppg, and the next three scoring leaders, guards Lodrick Stewart, Gabe Pruitt and forward Taj Gibson, each average between 12 and 14 points per game.
Gibson is also a ferocious rebounder, leading the team with nearly nine a game, while Young and Stewart are capable from behind the arc, averaging 45 and 44%, respectively.
Against tournament teams, the Trojans were 11-7, with wins over Long Beach St., George Washington, Arkansas, Texas, Oregon (2), Arizona (2), Stanford (2) and Washington State. The losses were to UCLA (2), Oregon, Stanford, Washington State (2) and Kansas.