Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Previews, Thursday Games

East Region

(1) Syracuse (33-2) vs. (4) Wisconsin (26-9), 7:15 pm ET - A serious contrast in styles awaits fans at the TD Garden in Boston. The Syracuse attack is predicated on turnovers and fast break points out of their 2-3 zone defense that most teams have trouble penetrating successfully. Wisconsin, however, does have advantages in three-point shooting and their own steady, heady defense on the opposite end.

While the Orange haven't seemed to have missed their center, Fab Melo, they also haven't played a team as disciplined as the Badgers, who don't turn the ball over very often. In their 60-57 win over Vanderbilt, Wisconsin suffered only eight turnovers and despite coming up on the short end in rebounds, shooting percentage and free throws, still managed to prevail. It gets tougher in the round of 16, and even though Syracuse has played well enough to win their previous two games, they'd better not get down early, because the Badgers have a way of milking leads and making others pay for their mistakes.

(2) Ohio St. (29-7) vs. (6) Cincinnati (26-10), 9:45 pm ET - The all-Ohio regional semi-final will be a gut-check for both teams, though if the Buckeyes get hot, they may be able to romp home with a win here because the Bearcats are not a great shooting team, relying more on defense to survive low scoring games. Cincinnati's wins in the tournament were both in the 60s, and, during the Big East regular season, they topped 80 points only twice.

By contrast, the Buckeyes have the players and system that can put up points in a hurry. Through their Big Ten season, they scored 80 or more four times and had a slew of wins in the 70s. Their two tournament wins were both in the 70s as well, and they won them by comfortable margins - 19 points over Loyola (MD) and seven better than a solid Gonzaga team.

West Region

(1) Michigan St. (29-7) vs. (4) Louisville (28-9), 7:47 pm ET - Both West regional semi-final games will be played at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ, so there won't be any perceived home advantage for any of the contestants. Both Michigan State and Louisville have been impressive through the first two games of the tournament and play very similar styles, though the Cardinals depend more on penetration by point guard Peyton Siva, whereas the Spartans have a go-to guy in Draymond Green, who registered a triple double in Michigan's opening win and a double-double taking down St. Louis to get to this point.

This is likely to be the defensive struggle of the night, as neither team is blessed with an abundance of offensive talent. A score with both teams in the 60s would not be surprising. Louisville, which ended their regular season with four losses in six games, has turned things around nicely, winning six straight, including the Big East tournament.

(3) Marquette (27-7) vs. (7) Florida (25-10), 10:17 pm ET - The Gators are arguably the faster team in this Big East-SEC match-up, but the Golden Eagles are a determined, consistent bunch who are difficult to label. They are surely among the best defensive teams remaining in the tourney, but they can go cold for long stretches on offense, which will hurt them badly if they don't score well against Florida.

Marquette made a shambles of their first two opponents in the tourney - BYU and Murray State - but Florida has big school credentials and demolished Virginia, 71-45 and Norfolk State, 84-50, making the Gators the tournament's biggest margin-of-victory team remaining. They have big time scorers in Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Eric Murphy. Either team will be a tough out, but Florida has coaching expertise in Billy Donovan and the scoring punch that could turn this into a catch-up game for the Golden Eagles, a condition at which they do not excel.

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