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Sweet 16 matchups filled with intrigue
The Sweet 16 is set. Let's look at the matchups:
EAST REGIONAL (Newark)
The road: The Buckeyes cruised thus far with routs over Texas-San Antonio and George Mason.
Storylines: The Buckeyes entered the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed. Despite the loss of lottery pick Evan Turner, this year’s team has been superior because of the addition of a strong freshman class.
Stud: Jared Sullinger — The freshman big man has been a double-double machine all season and has found a way to blend into the team despite coming into the program as a highly ranked McDonald’s All-American.
Key: Aaron Craft — He’s the "other" freshman and is the guy who just runs the team, defends and brings toughness to the table. He’ll be matched up against Kentucky frosh
Key question: Although the Buckeyes will have an advantage down low, it will be interesting to see how Thad Matta’s team matches up with Kentucky’s big wings of Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins.
Why they win: The Buckeyes have Sullinger, who is a difference-maker in the paint and on the glass, and also have experience and superior leadership.
Why they lose: They don't make shots from the perimeter, and they allow Jones to have a big night for the Wildcats.
The road: The Wildcats have found a way to get into the Sweet 16 despite a pair of nail-biters. First John Calipari’s team had trouble with Princeton and then pulled away from West Virginia late.
Storylines: It’s a new crop of young kids for Calipari, and this one doesn’t have the overall talent of last year’s group. It also lacks in the leadership department.
Stud: Brandon Knight — He has been the most valuable player for the Wildcats for the past three-quarters of the season. Knight scores in a variety of ways and has matured as a point guard.
Key: Josh Harrellson — Who thought we’d ever call the 6-foot-10 big man the key, but that’s exactly what he is, especially going against Sullinger. Harrellson doesn’t have to win the battle, but he needs to hold his own and stay out of foul trouble.
Key question: How does Calipari opt to defend the Buckeyes? Do you play Sullinger straight up with Harrellson or give him help, which means there will be someone open on the perimeter?
Why they win: If they double-team Sullinger and Ohio State doesn't make its shots from the perimeter.
Why they lose: Because they don’t have enough down low — and also lack quality depth.
The road: The Tar Heels rolled past Long Island and then needed a couple of breaks to knock off No. 7 Washington.
Storylines: This team was left for dead a couple months ago, but the insertion of freshman point guard Kendall Marshall into the starting lineup saved the Tar Heels' season. North Carolina wound up winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season crown and now everything is clicking.
Stud: Harrison Barnes — He finally looks like the star that just about everyone who saw him in high school and in the summer predicted. Barnes is far more comfortable since Marshall was plugged in as the starter, and his numbers have shown it.
Key: Tyler Zeller — If the long and talented big man is tough, then the Tar Heels will be difficult for Marquette to beat. The knock on Zeller in the past is that he's too soft.
Key question: Barnes has been terrific the second half of the season, but Marquette’s
Why they win: Size and talent. The Tar Heels just have more talent up and down the roster and are also so long.
Why they lose: Lack of toughness. Marquette coach Buzz Williams’ teams are known for their toughness.
The road: The Golden Eagles took care of No. 6 Xavier in the second round and then pulled the upset over fellow Big East member Syracuse to reach the Sweet 16.
Storylines: This was the last Big East team to get into the Big Dance. Can the Golden Eagles be the last team from the league standing?
Stud: Jimmy Butler — The senior and Texas native is vastly underrated and can do it all. He nearly had a triple-double at the Big East tournament.
Key: The Golden Eagles have to get out of the gates and play the Tar Heels close. These guys are used to being in tight games and could have the advantage if it's a game in the final minute or two.
Key question: Marquette’s big men need to hold their own on the glass against the longest front line in the country.
Why they win: Buzz Williams gets his kids to play harder than their opponent. That’s a trademark.
Why they lose: Overmatched.
WEST REGIONAL (Anaheim)
The road: The Blue Devils pounded No. 16 Hampton and then struggled to put Michigan away.
Storylines: Freshman Kyrie Irving missed 3-1/2 months because of a toe injury but has played the past two games. He’s not quite himself, but how much improvement can he make each game?
Stud: Nolan Smith — The senior combo guard has been, arguably, the best player in the country this season. He does it all: scores, distributes, rebounds, defends and leads.
Key: Kyle Singler — Look for the senior forward to get plenty of time trying to slow down Arizona star
Key question: Can the Blue Devils slow down Williams? Texas couldn’t do it. Look for Coach K to rotate Singler and Mason Plumlee on Williams in an effort to wear him down.
Why they win: Because they contain Williams and the rest of the Arizona team is overmatched by the Blue Devils.
Why they lose: If Williams goes for 30 and Duke can’t make shots from the perimeter.
The road: The Wildcats beat Memphis and then pulled the upset over a more-talented Texas team.
Storylines: Sean Miller took over a program that was in disarray and has done an incredible job getting the Wildcats to the Sweet 16. Miller has Arizona at least a year ahead of schedule.
Stud: Derrick Williams — The one-time USC signee has been one of the elite players in the nation. He’s a versatile, 6-foot-8 forward who can score in virtually every way possible.
Key: Lamont "MoMo" Jones — The New York native is fearless, and he’ll need to play big in this one. Not a natural point guard, Jones is capable of going for 20 — and needs to for the Wildcats to come out on top.
Key question: How healthy is Irving? If he's not any more effective than he was for much of the game against Michigan, the Wildcats might have a shot.
Why they win: Williams goes for 30 and Irving is still rusty.
Why they lose: Duke slows down Williams and the Wildcats don’t have an answer defensively for Smith and Singler.
No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 3 UConn, Thursday at 7:15 p.m. ET (CBS)
SAN DIEGO STATE
The road: The Aztecs took care of Northern Colorado and then got past No. 7 Temple in double overtime.
Storylines: Steve Fisher took over a program more than a decade ago that was in the dumps, but the guy who coached the Fab Five has not just rebuilt it, but made it a top 10 team for much of the season.
Stud: Kawhi Leonard — The athletic tweener forward plays as hard as just about anyone in the nation and is a double-double machine.
Key: D.J. Gay — He's the leader of this team. When he plays well, the Aztecs are tough to beat.
Key question: Can San Diego State make enough shots from the perimeter? Santa Clara transfer James Rahon is the team’s top perimeter shooter and needs to make some to keep the defense honest.
Why they win: Leonard will definitely show up, but his frontcourt mate, Malcolm Thomas, is a dilemma. If Thomas has a big game and the Aztecs make some shots from the perimeter, they can advance to the Elite Eight.
Why they lose: They can’t make shots — or stop Kemba Walker.
The road: The Huskies pummeled Bucknell and then took care of Cincinnati without much of an issue.
Storylines: This was a team that was slated to be in the NIT, but Kemba Walker has been phenomenal. He led the Huskies to the Maui Invitational crown to start the season and then finished with a bang by helping UConn win five games in five days at the Big East tourney.
Stud: Kemba Walker — The speedy junior guard has done it all for the Huskies. He’s tough and has been one of the elite scorers in the nation this season.
Key: Alex Oriakhi — When UConn’s sophomore big man comes to play and goes hard, the Huskies are tough to beat. But Oriakhi admittedly doesn’t always play with a high motor.
Key question: Does freshman Jeremy Lamb assert himself early? If he does — and makes shots from the perimeter — it takes pressure off Walker.
Why they win: Walker does his thing — and now there’s enough of a supporting cast with guys like Oriakhi and freshmen Lamb, Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier.
Why they lose: Oriakhi doesn’t show up or gets into foul trouble and Leonard and Thomas go wild on the Huskies front line.
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL (New Orleans)
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Butler, Thursday at 9:57 ET (TBS)
Storylines: The Badgers are always overlooked, but coach Bo Ryan has gotten this program into the Big Dance every year since he has been in Madison. Wisconsin has been to the Sweet 16 five times since 2000.
Stud: Jordan Taylor — He’s not going to blow you away with his burst, but the junior point guard takes care of the ball and is capable of going for 30.
Key: Jon Leuer — The skilled forward will need to play tough against a physical Butler front line.
Key question: Both teams have a couple of big-time players. Which team will get more out of its supporting cast?
Why they win: These guys don’t beat themselves. Wisconsin is on pace to set the NCAA record, as the Badgers average only 7.56 turnovers per contest.
Why they lose: The Badgers' front line can’t handle Butler on the glass and Taylor is unable to keep
The road: The Bulldogs pulled a mild upset over Old Dominion and then pulled the shocker of the tourney with a win over No. 1 seed Pittsburgh.
Storylines: Can Brad Stevens and last year’s Cinderella story make a return trip to the Final Four? Remember, this team came up a bucket short of winning it all a year ago.
Stud: Shelvin Mack — He erupted for 30 points in Butler’s win against Pittsburgh but has been erratic shooting the ball this season.
Key: Matt Howard — He’s the ultimate team guy and is a poor man’s Tyler Hansbrough. His motor never stops — and he’ll need to be dominant for the Bulldogs to advance.
Key question: The Bulldogs' defense was shabby early in the season, but it will need to be sharp against Wisconsin.
Why they win: The Bulldogs just find a way. They have been there and done it.
Why they lose: Mack has an off night and the Bulldogs just don’t have enough for him to struggle against Wisconsin.
No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 BYU, Thursday at 7:27 p.m. ET (TBS)
The road: The Gators beat UC Santa Barbara and then outlasted UCLA to advance to the Sweet 16.
Storylines: Can the Gators get revenge on The Jimmer? A year ago, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette went for 37 and the Cougars knocked off Billy Donovan’s team in the first round.
Stud: Chandler Parsons — He struggled early in the season, but he’s long and versatile — and the offense needs to run through the senior.
Key: Stopping Jimmer — Can the Gators slow down The Jimmer?
Why they win: Florida’s frontcourt can dominate physically against BYU’s big men.
Why they lose: The Jimmer does what he does — and Florida’s backcourt of Boynton and Erving Walker tries to match him and forgets about their teammates.
The road: The Cougars beat Wofford and then dominated against Gonzaga.
Storylines: Can The Jimmer knock Florida out of the NCAA tournament again? He put up 37 against the Gators last year in a first-round victory.
Stud: Jimmer Fredette — He led the nation in scoring and is the best offensive player in the country.
Key question: Can this group, which lost starting big man Brandon Davies because of an honor code violation, hold its own with the bigger, stronger Florida front line?
Why they win: The Jimmer is The Jimmer and goes off for at least 37.
Why they lose: Florida takes advantage of its size and BYU isn’t able to stop the Gators.
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL (San Antonio)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 12 Richmond, Friday at 7:27 p.m. ET (TBS)
The road: The Jayhawks pulled away from Boston University and then got past Illinois.
Storylines: A year ago, Bill Self and the Jayhawks lost to Northern Iowa in the second round. The path appears easy for KU this season with Richmond in the regional semifinals and then the winner of the VCU-Florida State matchup. But will the Jayhawks be upset again?
Studs: The Morris twins — Marcus and Markieff share the honor. Marcus has gotten more accolades, but his brother (an inch taller) is equally as talented.
Key: Guard play — Josh Selby was supposed to come in and dominate. However, the talented freshman has played a supporting role while Self has opted to go with veterans Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar.
Key question: Who will lead the Jayhawks? I’m still not sold on Marcus Morris as the leader, but can these guys do it as a group?
Why they win: I’m not sure anyone has the combination of talent and experience that can match Kansas. The Jayhawks can overwhelm Richmond with its overall size and athleticism.
Storylines: The Spiders are making their second appearance in the Sweet 16 in school history against one of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball.
Stud: Kevin Anderson — One of the most underrated guards in the country, Anderson does it all for the Spiders: He scores, distributes and leads.
Key: Justin Harper — The talented forward has to be dominant and find a way to stay out of foul trouble.
Key question: How does Richmond contain the big, strong and athletic Kansas front line of the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson coming off the bench?
Why they win: Chris Mooney’s team has shooters. If they get on a roll, the Spiders can give Kansas a game.
Why they lose: Kansas is more talented at virtually every position.
No. 10 Florida State vs. No. 11 VCU
The road: The Seminoles beat Texas A&M in the second round before pulling the upset over No. 2 Notre Dame.
Storylines: This is the first-ever matchup in the Sweet 16 of a No. 10 and a No. 11 seed.
Key: How healthy will Singleton be for this game? Leonard Hamilton used his top player sparingly in the first two games since he missed a month because of a broken foot.
Key question: VCU has been scoring at a rapid pace. Can the top defensive team in the nation slow the Rams down?
Why they win: Singleton is healthier and the Seminoles just have too much size and length for VCU to handle.
Why they lose: These guys have difficulty scoring. VCU might not score in the 90s, as it did against Purdue, but it will put enough points on the board to require Florida State to be able to shoot the ball effectively.
The road: The Rams beat USC in the First Four, pounded Georgetown and then breezed past Purdue.
Storylines: Shaka Smart’s team was criticized by many for getting into the NCAA tournament. In fact, Smart didn’t even have his guys together for the selection show.
Stud: Jamie Skeen — The Wake Forest transfer is one of the few VCU guys who can match the size and athleticism of Florida State. Skeen has averaged 15.2 points and 7.3 boards per game this season.
Key: Joey Rodriguez — VCU’s veteran point guard needs to be special for the Rams to win this one. It’s the one area in which the Rams have the clear-cut advantage.
Key question: Can the Rams score against Florida State? They put up 89 against UCLA earlier this season and then torched Purdue for 94. But the Seminoles' defense is unique because of its length.
Why they win: The Rams have momentum, confidence and a chip on their shoulder. Smart knows how to push the right buttons — and might be able to hit another.
Why they lose: Florida State’s length and excess of big bodies are something VCU hasn’t seen all year long.
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