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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?

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. fully recovered, ready to go

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dennis Smith Jr. sure looks ready.

North Carolina State’s prized freshman point guard is pushing through a workout in the practice gym on a hot July afternoon, and there’s no sign of the knee injury that defined his past year.

He’s sprinting along the baseline to bury a catch-and-shoot corner 3-pointer. He’s dribbling between chairs and stutter-stepping his way to a pull-up jumper. He’s launching himself at the rim for a dunk off the dribble.

“I don’t expect to be rusty at all,” Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I was feeling kind of nervous at one point, but I went in and did a workout and then I was thinking, `I’m putting in all this work so all the nervousness should be out of my mind.’ I had no reason to be timid.

“I just have to go out there and perform, no excuses.”

A lot has happened for Smith in 12 months. The Fayetteville native suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in a game during the Adidas Nations event featuring top prospects. He had surgery, picked N.C. State, graduated from high school early and enrolled in college in January to rehab and learn the Wolfpack’s system before his debut later this year.

Tuesday marks one year since the injury for the 6-foot-3 Smith, ranked by ESPN as the nation’s No. 1 point guard when he signed last fall.

“We’ve tried to be real conservative with him as far as not letting him do too much too fast,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “At his age, he can’t wait. He’s dying to play every day.”

Smith started earning his leadership role as soon as he arrived in Raleigh, pointing out instructions to teammates or calling them to the gym for extra work even though he couldn’t play. He figures that time observing from the sideline has prepared him to replace high-scoring floor leader Anthony “Cat” Barber.

“I feel like I’ve gotten smarter, definitely,” Smith said. “I see the game totally different now. I read pick-and-roll easier. I feel like I’ve gotten more sound on defense because I understand angles better.”

The physical work to get back has been tougher.

Roughly a year ago, Smith was lying in a bed after surgery trying to stay positive. He asked trainer Ja-Rell Bailey to bring him some free weights for upper-body exercises even if he couldn’t do much else, an example of why Bailey described Smith as “a man determined.”

Smith’s father said the rehab emphasized building leg strength to protect and stabilize the injured knee, something his son said he will keep doing in both legs for years to come. Smith’s work has helped him go from 180 pounds to a college-ready 192-pound frame.

“He’s got his bounce back, so he can dunk and everything,” Dennis Smith Sr. said. “But what Junior has got, God gave it to him. . A lot of times you run into kids who are built off of hype because they do a fancy move or have a good game. Junior ain’t hype. He’s the real deal.”

Regardless, Gottfried expects Smith to have “a learning curve.”

“For me,” he said, “I think what you see in November is going to be much different than what you see in January.”

The Wolfpack will look much different, too, after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons. N.C. State welcomes Scout.com’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class that includes five-star Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven. Senior guard Terry Henderson returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him 7 minutes into last season. Charlotte transfer and former Conference USA freshman of the year Torin Dorn Jr. will play after sitting out last year.

Still, Smith is the guy stirring the most buzz for Wolfpack fans – something he has no trouble embracing.

“I really don’t feel that pressure though,” Smith said. “I feel like if you come in and you expect to play well, then you should have those expectations of people talking. It’s just playing basketball to me. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Washington lands commitment from Mamoudou Diarra

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For the second time this summer, Washington has landed a commitment from a forward in the Class of 2017.

On Friday, it was Mamoudou Diarra that pledged his future to Lorenzo Romar. Diarra is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward that is currently unranked by Rivals but was targeted by a number high major program.

Washington landed a commitment from Michael Porter Jr. earlier this summer, and given Porter’s standing as the potential No. 1 player in the class, the Huskies will be in the mix for the best crop of freshmen in the country in 2017-18. Romar has also landed commitments from four-star guard Jaylen Nowell and three-star guard Blake Harris.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Diarra played his high school basketball in St. Louis.

Xavier lands second top 100 commitment in 2017

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Xavier landed a key commitment on Friday morning in Naji Marshall, one of the Musketeers’ top targets in the Class of 2017.

Marshall is a la 6-foot-5 wing from Washington D.C. that is currently ranked 62nd in the 2017 class by Rivals. He’s a scorer that has shown off a versatile offensive game, averaging better than three assists on the Under Armour Association circuit.

This is the third commitment from head coach Chris Mack in the class and the second top 100 player to pledge to the Musketeers. Marshall picked Xavier over Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia Tech, among other.

Four-star 2018 guard Coby White commits to North Carolina

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, center, reacts with his team behind him after a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Washington. North Carolina won 88-71. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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With guards Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek having committed in their 2017 recruiting class, North Carolina received a commitment from one of the better guards in the Class of 2018 Thursday night. Four-star guard Coby White, who’s ranked 61st in his class by Rivals.com, made his pledge to Roy Williams’ program. News of White’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

The 6-foot-4 White is a native of Wilson, North Carolina, where he attends Greenfield HS, and he played his grassroots basketball for the CP3 16U basketball program this summer. His commitment to UNC comes just a couple days after the ACC school offered him a scholarship.

White took an unofficial visit to UNC in June, and his play in July ultimately led to the program making the aforementioned scholarship offer. By the time White enrolls in Chapel Hill, current veterans such as Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will be out of eligibility. Among the perimeter would could potentially be on campus in 2018 are freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson, and sophomore Kenny Williams.

White is the second commit in the 2018 class for the Tar Heels, with 6-foot-7 guard Rechon Black being the first.

Point guard Small to transfer from Oregon

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18:  Kendall Small #21 of the Oregon Ducks shoots over Derek Mountain #40 of the Holy Cross Crusaders in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After navigating a lack of depth at the point to win the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles and earn the program’s first-ever one seed in the NCAA tournament, Oregon will have no such issues in 2016-17. Dylan Ennis, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is back for another season as is returning starter Casey Benson. Add in freshman Payton Pritchard, whose shooting ability can help a team that struggled from three a season ago, and Dana Altman has multiple players to call upon at that spot.

That left Kendall Small, who played just under eight minutes per game as a freshman, in a spot where it would have been tough to earn more playing time as a sophomore. As a result he’s decided to transfer, with the news first being reported by Scout.com.

In addition to the three guards mentioned above, sophomore Tyler Dorsey also has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Small will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at whichever school he chooses to transfer to, and he’ll have to sit out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules.

A 6-foot guard from Anaheim, Small’s best outing came in Oregon’s 77-59 win over Savannah State on November 23. In that game Small accounted for nine points, four assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action. But he played double-digit minutes in just four games after the Ducks began Pac-12 play in early January, the last of which being Oregon’s win over Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA tournament.