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Breaking Down the Sweet 16: The X-factor in each game

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We’re down to the Sweet 16, when teams will have more time to study unfamiliar opponents and figure out what needs to be done in order to advance. With that in mind, here are the x-factors for each of the eight Sweet 16 games that will be played later this week.

Click here to browse through all of our Sweet 16 previews

EAST REGION

No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 2 Miami: Who makes the plays down the stretch?

Marquette may be the best team in the country when it comes to winning close games. Just ask Butler, who Marquette beat in the round of 32, or Davidson, who watched a team that can’t hit threes makes a flurry of them in the final minute. That said, Miami may have the most clutch player left in the tournament in Shane Larkin. This will be a close game. Who makes the big shots and the big plays down the stretch to win it?

No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Indiana: Can Indiana play two point guards?

We already told you that the key matchup in this game is going to end up being how Victor Oladipo defends Michael Carter-Williams. It only makes sense that the Hoosiers would matchup that way. MCW is the most important player on the Syracuse roster, and Oladipo is one of the best defenders in the country. But if Oladipo is on MCW, than does that mean that one of Jordy Hulls or Yogi Ferrell is stuck on James Southerland? That can’t happen, which puts Indiana in a tough spot. Can they go 2-3 zone against the Orange to get both of their guards on the floor? Will Will Sheehey or Remy Abell see the majority of the minutes at the three, allowing Indiana to better matchup with the Syracuse size? If Indiana is forced to play bigger, does that hurt how they can execute against the Syracuse 2-3 zone?

WEST REGION

No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 2 Ohio State: Who has to adjust their lineup?

Arizona is as big as anyone in the country, especially at the times where they slide Solomon Hill down to the three and play two of their freshmen bigs together. Ohio State, currently the hottest team in the country, has made their late season run by going small, using Deshaun Thomas, Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross as their front court rotation. Will the Buckeyes be forced to play big, or will Arizona have to play small to matchup with Ohio State?

No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 9 Wichita State: Cleanthony Early

Early is the guy that solves Wichita State’s matchup problem. The Explorers play four guards at once, especially with Steve Zack still injured. Early is the most talented player on the Shockers, a 6-foot-8 forward with perimeter skills. He can defend on the perimeter as well, and while you might not want to stick him on Ramon Galloway, he should be able to hold his own against Sam Mills. If he does, he creates the matchup problem at the other end with his size.

MIDWEST REGION

No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 1 Louisville: Oregon’s defensive execution

We already know about Oregon’s turnover issues against Louisville’s press, but if the Ducks want to avoid facing that press, they need to get stops. When Louisville scores, they smother you. When they don’t, they drop back and defend in the half court. The best press break is a good defense.

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Duke: Mason Plumlee vs. Derrick Nix

Part of what makes Duke’s offense so effective is that Mason Plumlee can overpower people in the post. If he gets doubled, he’s got four sharp-shooters and capable passers surrounding him that can make teams pay for leaving them open. Plumlee isn’t going to be overpowering Derrick Nix, however. If there is no double team coming, is Duke going to be able to get enough good looks offensively against Michigan State’s defense?

SOUTH REGION

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 1 Kansas: How does Kansas defend ball-screens?

The way that Iowa State almost pulled off a pair of wins over Kansas is that they were able to pull Jeff Withey away from the rim by engaging the guy that he was guarding in ball-screen actions. While the Cyclones used Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim in pick-and-pop actions, Mitch McGary is as good as anyone in the country at rolling hard to the rim off of a ball-screen. Trey Burke is terrific coming off of a ball-screen as well, and with the number of knockdown shooters that Michigan has on the perimeter, help defense becomes even more risky.

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida: Dunk City

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the way that FGCU beat both San Diego State and Georgetown is that they hung around long enough that, when they went on their big second half run, it just ripped the will out of both teams. Will the Gators allow Dunk City to hang round long enough to do that?

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.