Friday NCAA tourney previews
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Purdue
The Road: The Blue Devils destroyed No. 16 Arkansas Pine-Bluff and then took advantage of the size mismatch and cruised past California, 68-53.
Storylines: It’s simple: Can Mike Krzyzewski’s team make its first Elite Eight appearance since 2004?
Stud: Jon Scheyer — He struggled against Cal, but he’s got more on his plate than anyone else on the team having to run the show and also make sure he gets at least 15 points for the Blue Devils to win.
Key: Brian Zoubek — The 7-foot senior was able to take advantage against a small Cal team; Can Zoubek neutralize Purdue’s big man JaJuan Johnson? If so, Duke should roll.
Key question: Can the Blue Devils win again if one of the Big Three has an off night? Scheyer struggled against Cal, yet Coach K & Co. still advanced. The further Duke goes, that won’t be the case. The Blue Devils will need all three to play well to move on.
Why they win: Purdue only has two players that you truly have to worry about: E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. Duke’s Nolan Smith could give Moore problems and the Blue Devils have a committee of bigs to rotate in on Johnson.
Why they lose: Purdue mucks up the game and makes it ugly and Duke, and Scheyer in particular, has difficulty getting the Blue Devils into their offense.
The Road: The Boilermakers knocked off No. 13 Siena, 72-64, in the opening round and then needed overtime to get past No. 5 Texas A&M to earn a trip to the Sweet 16.
Storylines: Can Purdue beat Duke without arguably its best player, Robbie Hummel, who went down with a season-ending knee injury about a month ago?
Stud: E’Twaun Moore — A smooth scoring guard who isn’t overly athletic and explosive, but finds ways to get baskets. He’s not nearly as effective without Hummel on the court.
Key: Keaton Grant — The senior is capable of scoring 15 to 20 points, but he needs to be more assertive while also making quality decisions. With Hummel out, Matt Painter needs a third scoring option and Grant is the most likely candidate.
Key question: Purdue has guys like Chris Kramer and Grant who can defend. The issue is whether the Boilermakers can score against Duke.
Why they win: Defense and toughness. That’s legitimately the only way. Painter is a terrific coach.
Why they lose: They just don’t have enough firepower without Hummel in the lineup. It’s too bad because this team could have had a legit shot to go to the Final Four with a healthy Hummel.
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 10 Saint Mary’s
The Road: Scott Drew’s Bears beat Sam Houston, 68-59, in the first round and then knocked off No. 11 Old Dominion, 76-68, to advance to the Sweet 16.
Storylines: Just think about what Drew has done in Waco since taking over a program in complete shambles. He’s got the Bears two wins away from getting to the Final Four, which is a remarkable story for a program in disarray just a few years ago.
Stud: LaceDarius Dunn — The athletic guard is exciting to watch because he can score the ball at a ridiculous rate. He can get his own shot virtually whenever he wants.
Key: Ekpe Udoh — The Oklahoma native began his career at Michigan, but transferred two years ago and has wasted little time making an impact since becoming eligible. He’s a big-time shot-blocker who is more skilled than most realized.
Key question: Will Baylor’s perimeter defenders be able to get out on Saint Mary’s abundance of shooters? The Gaels have plenty of guys who can stroke it from long range and the Bears aren’t the most disciplined team on the defensive end.
Why they win: Talent, athleticism and length — The Bears have 6-foot-10 Udoh, 6-11 big man Josh Lomers and 6-10 Anthony Jones along the frontline and two big-time athletes in Tweety Carter and Dunn in the backcourt.
Why they lose: They can’t stop Omar Samhan in the paint and aren’t able to get out on the Gaels shooters.
The Road: The Gaels took care of Richmond with ease, 80-71, in the opening round and then pulled the upset over No. 2 Villanova, 75-68.
Storylines: Could this turn into America’s team? It’s a mid-major team that embraces the fact that no one believed in them and is led by affable senior big man Omar Samhan.
Stud: Samhan — One of the most personable and productive players in college basketball. The 6-foot-11 big man plays hard and is also a relentless, admitted trash-talker. Virtually no one recruited him out of high school.
Key: Samhan needs to stay out of foul trouble. The only way the Gaels win this game is if their star remains on the court and they also make perimeter shots.
Key question: This is a contrast of styles and personnel. Can the Gaels make shots, which will force Baylor to have to score in the halfcourt?
Why they win: Samhan dominates in the paint against Lomers and Udoh and guys like Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova make shots from long distance.
Why they lose: They can’t stop the athletes at Baylor and Samhan isn’t effective against the length up front of the Bears.
No. 9 Northern Iowa vs. No. 5 Michigan State
The Road: The Panthers beat UNLV on a last-second shot from Ali Farokhmanesh and then pulled the ultimate shocker with the upset over No. 1 Kansas.
Storylines: Farokhmanesh has made two historic shots to beat UNLV and Kansas. Can the kid who didn’t have a single D-1 or D-2 offer coming out of high school do it again?
Stud: Northern Iowa does it with balance, but the guy who sets the Panthers apart from many other mid-majors is 7-foot senior Jordan Elsie — who averaged 12 points and 7.3 boards this season.
Key: Kwadzo Haulage — Northern Iowa’s point guard needs to play well, especially since he won’t be going up against Kalin Lucas. He’s certainly capable.
Key question: Will the ride continue? It’s crazy to say, but Northern Iowa may actually be favored to win this one after the upset against Kansas and the fact that Michigan State will be without its star.
Why they win: Experience and chemistry — These guys have been together a while, play together and are primarily upperclassmen. They have great balance and you can’t just focus on one guy.
Why they lose: Because Tom Izzo is one of the greatest tournament coaches of our era and he’ll find a way to win despite being without Kalin Lucas.
The Road: The Spartans slid past New Mexico State in the first round and then needed a Korie Lucious trifecta as time expired to get past Maryland into the Sweet 16.
Storylines: Can Michigan State continue to advance despite the fact that star point guard Kalin Lucas is done for the season after suffering a torn Achilles late in the first half of the win against Maryland?
Stud: Raymar Morgan — The athletic combo forward must produce for the Spartans to have a shot to win. He’s been inconsistent throughout his career, but now there’s no margin for error.
Key: Durrell Summers — He’s another guy that’s been erratic. In fact, Tom Izzo benched him for the entire second half of the Big Ten quarterfinal loss due to the fact that he wouldn’t defend. Well, Summers was terrific in the win against Maryland with 26 points and a half-dozen 3-pointers.
Key question: Can Lucious step into the full-time point guard role and get it done? It’s been Lucas with the ball in his hands for the better part of three years. Not an easy adjustment.
Why they win: Tom Izzo is a mastermind, especially come this time of year. He still has enough talent with guys like Morgan, Summers and Draymond Green, but he’ll need Lucious to fill in for Lucas.
Why they lose: Lucious isn’t Lucas — and the Spartans haven’t had any quality leadership all year.
No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Ohio State
The Road: The Vols beat San Diego State in the first round, 62-59, and then cruised past upset-minded Ohio University to reach the Sweet 16.
Storylines: With a win here, Tennessee will advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. It’s impressive, especially to think the Vols have done it without Tyler Smith, who was booted from the team in early January.
Stud: Wayne Chism — The senior big man needs to stay out of foul trouble. He can be a dominant player in the post, but also loves to shoot the ball from beyond the arc.
Key: Bobby Maze — When the Vols are really good, it usually coincides with how Maze fares. He’s an erratic point guard who has learned how to let the game come to him.
Key question: Can the Vols slow down Evan Turner? I’m not sure they have anyone that can stop him, but the key is forcing him to make jump shots.
Why they win: Depth. The Vols go 10 deep while Ohio State plays four or five guys major minutes. This could help Tennessee down the stretch.
Why they lose: They lack the big-time star that Ohio State boasts in Turner.
The Road: The Buckeyes cruised past UC Santa Barbara in the first round and then pulled away from Georgia Tech in the second round.
Storylines: Evan Turner has been the best player in the country. Can he carry the Buckeyes past a much deeper Vols team?
Stud: Evan Turner — The junior, who was converted to point guard prior to the season in an effort for Thad Matta to get his best players on the court, has been sensational. He does everything for the Buckeyes.
Key: Jon Diebler — If the sweet-shooting wing can make shots from beyond the arc — as he did in the second half against Georgia Tech — it opens it up for everyone else on the team.
Key question: Can the Buckeyes remain healthy and out of foul trouble? They have four primary guys — Turner, Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty. All need to be on the floor for Ohio State to win.
Why they win: If Ohio State holds its own on the glass, the Buckeyes have a good shot. Turner also can’t have an off-game or Matta’s team is in trouble.
Why they lose: Too reliant on one player to do too much. Turner doesn’t just need to score for the Buckeyes to win, but he also needs to be a force on the glass because Ohio State has no legitimate post presence.