Ranking the Watchability of the Sweet Sixteen matchups

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I’m going to do this countdown style, starting with the eighth-most-watchable game and finishing up with el numero uno.

8.  (3) Marquette vs. (2) Miami (CBS): Someone had to be the eight seed here. This game will be tough to watch because Marquette went through a couple of point-guard deficient mid-majors to get to the Sweet 16, and they’re about to get exposed. Shane Larkin has proved himself equal to the pressure of the national tournament, and the Hurricanes may well turn this into a laugher. Also, the eyeball impact of Marquette’s road unis and Miami’s highlighter-pen-inspired shoes will be devastating. One thing that might push this one higher in the end: the possibility of another brilliant Julian Gamble photobomb.

7. (13) La Salle vs. (9) Wichita State (TBS): Two very inspiring teams, but probably not the most telegenic basketball. Points had to be deducted when Carl Hall shaved off his visually dynamic dreadlocks, though some more were added back on for the braids of Tyrone Garland, which sway in most pleasing fashion when he lofts up the “Southwest Philly Floater”.

6. (6) Arizona vs. (2) Ohio State (TBS): It may be painful to watch Arizona’s guard-based attack attempt to battle past Aaron Craft only to run into the Buckeyes’ star big man DeShaun Thomas. Neither team has been associated with the term “win pretty” this season, so whichever way it goes, it could be a slog. If there’s another dramatic game-winner, this one will be much more interesting.

5. (4) Michigan vs. (1) Kansas (TBS): We’re sort of at the tipping point here. If the Kansas backcourt shows up in this one, it could be far better than I’m predicting. A Trey Burke/Tim Hardaway, Jr. vs. Elijah Johnson/Ben McLemore backcourt battle could be spectacular if the latter pair break out of the slump they inhabited in the first two games of the tourney. The emergence of Mitch McGary as a possible foil to the excellent Jeff Withey is a subplot to watch, as well.

4. (12) Oregon vs. (1) Louisville (CBS): I honestly could have flip-flopped this one with the No. 5 matchup without losing any sleep. Oregon has been dynamic and fun to watch thus far, but Louisville is such a meat grinder on defense, with a strong guard corps, that they might slow the Ducks down to an unwatchable pace. Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng setting up to reject anyone who gets inside could be fun, but not if we end up with a blowout.

3. (3) Michigan State vs. (2) Duke (CBS): It bothered me that I was more excited about the coaching matchup here than the actual styles of play, but there’s no doubt that this will be an epic showdown between two programs who have become synonymous with big tournament moments. There’s a lot of size and experience inside, so this could be one of the better big man games we’ll see in the Sweet Sixteen.

2. (4) Syracuse vs. (1) Indiana (CBS): Based on the sheer blue-chip athleticism that will be on display, I had to bump this one over the MSU-Duke game. You’ve got Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair on one side, and Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller on the other. If you’ve watched any college hoops this season, you probably got a buzz just remembering some of the highlight-reel plays those four players have put up this year. Plus, the seeding works to our advantage, because the Hoosiers will be wearing their classic home jerseys and the Orange will be in… well, orange.

1. (15) Florida Gulf Coast vs. (3) Florida (TBS): If the Eagles played any other style, this would be a terrible game to watch, but the running, gunning, high-flying Dunk City underdog is great television, win or lose. I love the FGCU uniforms, and nobody can deny that coach Andy Enfield and his family burnish the school’s visual image as well. I’m including the Gators in this, of course, it’s not all about the Eagles. Florida gets a rather sizable 40 percent of their points from three-pointers, and they are the most perfectly balanced tourney team in terms of offensive and defensive prowess. Florida has serious hair game as well, from Billy Donovan’s distinctive widow’s peak to Will Yeguete’s puffy Fro-hawk.

It should be an incredibly watchable game on all fronts, but most especially because of the possibilities it represents. Florida would be in the Elite Eight for the third time in as many years if they prevail, and Florida Gulf Coast would be building on their incredibly improbable tournament resume. If the Eagles make an Elite Eight, can you really afford to be the person who was watching Letterman instead?

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Thursday’s Three Things To Know: Drexel’s historic comeback, Arizona survives, Houston doesn’t

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1. DREXEL COMPLETED THE BIGGEST COMEBACK IN DIVISION I HISTORY

Drexel trailed Delaware 53-19 late in the first half on Thursday night.

They won 85-83.

Both of those things are 100 percent true and 100 percent happened.

2. ARIZONA WON WITHOUT ALLONZO TRIER … BARELY

No. 14 Arizona was forced to play without Allonzo Trier on Thursday night at Oregon State after Trier tested positive for a banned substance again. The Wildcats led by 12 points in the first half, but Wayne Tinkle’s club slowly but surely chipped away at the lead. They were ahead with less than a minute left with OSU missed two wide-open threes on the same possession before a pair of Rawle Alkins free throws forced overtime.

Alkins — who finished with 16 points on the night — took over in the extra frame, but if there is anything that we learned in the 45 minutes that Arizona played without Trier available on Thursday, it’s that they are going to struggle to win games if they do not have their second-leading scorer available.

3. TUBBY SMITH FINALLY BEAT A RANKED TEAM

Tubby Smith has been crushed throughout his tenure with Memphis, and deservedly so. The Tigers are not selling tickets and are not competing at a level that is expected of that program in the post-John Calipari era. That said, they aren’t terrible. On Thursday night, Memphis beat No. 23 Houston in FedEd Forum — Smith’s first win over a ranked opponent since he took over the job — to alleviate some of the heat that has been directed his way this season.

Houston, on the other hand, is probably pretty safe when it comes to inclusion into the NCAA tournament at this point, but they sure have had a weird seven days. It started with a win over Cincinnati, then turned into a 21-point win at Temple and concluded with a loss to Memphis. Such is life in the AAC, I guess.

Ford leads No. 22 Saint Mary’s past Pepperdine, 75-61

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Jordan Ford had 18 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, and No. 22 Saint Mary’s rolled to a 75-61 victory over Pepperdine on Thursday night.

Calvin Hermanson scored 14 points and Tanner Krebs added 12 for the Gaels (26-4, 15-2 West Coast Conference). Jock Landale scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.

Ford shot 7 for 11 from the field and 4 for 6 from 3-point range and fell two points short of tying his career scoring high.

Saint Mary’s remained one game behind Gonzaga (26-4, 16-1), a 77-72 winner at San Diego, in the WCC with one regular-season game to play. The Gaels can earn a share of the WCC regular-season title with a victory at home against Santa Clara and a Gonzaga loss at BYU on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s point guard Emmett Naar, who injured his left ankle late in the first half against Portland on Saturday, started and had three points and six assists in 14 minutes, most of those in the first half.

Trae Berhow and Knox Hellums each scored 13 points for Pepperdine (4-25, 1-16).

Ford had 14 points and six rebounds in the first half, when Saint Mary’s built a 46-26 lead.

Pepperdine guard Eric Cooper Jr., who averages 13.2 points, did not make the trip because of a shoulder injury. Udenyi Amadi started in his place.

BIG PICTURE

Pepperdine: The Waves lost their eighth straight game and are locked into sole possession of last place in the WCC. Pepperdine will be the No. 10 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels won their second straight after losing back-to-back games to Gonzaga on Feb. 10 and San Francisco on Feb. 15. Saint Mary’s had won a school-record 19 straight games before falling to Gonzaga.

UP NEXT

Pepperdine hosts Portland on Saturday in its WCC regular-season finale. The Waves fell 85-76 in overtime at Portland on Feb. 1.

Saint Mary’s hosts Santa Clara on Saturday in its final WCC regular-season game. The Gaels beat the Broncos 81-57 on Jan. 11 at Santa Clara.

Thornton, Rivers lead Memphis past No. 23 Houston

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Jimario Rivers and Raynere Thornton each scored 21 points, helping Memphis beat No. 23 Houston 91-85 on Thursday night.

Rivers also grabbed nine rebounds and Thornton made four 3-pointers as Memphis (17-11, 8-7 American Athletic Conference) earned its third straight victory.

Rob Gray had 30 points and seven assists for Houston (21-6, 11-4), which entered the Top 25 this week for the first time this season. Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. each scored 15 points.

The Cougars led 43-37 at halftime, but they shot 32.3 percent from the field in the second half. The Tigers made 54 percent of their shots while rallying for the victory.

Memphis went ahead to stay with a 22-8 surge that made it 76-68 on Mike Parks Jr.’s basket with 6:28 remaining. The Tigers closed it out at the line, making 29 of 36 attempts for the game.

Houston had won five in a row. It went 18 of 20 at the line.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, went 4 for 15 from beyond the arc in the second half. They also surrendered their most points this season.

Memphis: Leading scorer Jeremiah Martin left in the first half with a lower body injury. Thornton picked up the scoring after the break, scoring 19 points in the second half.

UP NEXT

Houston: Entertains East Carolina on Sunday.

Memphis: Travels to UConn on Sunday

No. 6 Gonzaga rallies to beat San Diego, 77-72

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Killian Tillie scored 17 points, Rui Hachimura added 16 and No. 6 Gonzaga beat San Diego 77-72 on Thursday night to clinch at least a share of the West Coast Conference title.

The Bulldogs (26-4, 16-1 WCC) defeated the Toreros (17-12, 8-9) for the eighth straight game and for the 19th time in their last 20 meetings.

Olin Cater III led San Diego with 21 points.

After trailing at halftime and falling behind by eight points in the second half, the Bulldogs didn’t seize the lead until midway through the second half, when Tillie’s 3-pointer made it 52-51.

It was a back-and-forth affair from there, with the Toreros relying on their stingy defense to slow the up-tempo Bulldogs. But Gonzaga had too much firepower and was helped by four straight free throws from Hachimura when taking the lead for good with four minutes remaining.

Gonzaga demolished San Diego in last year’s visit by 58 points. The Bulldogs built an early six-point lead in this one but San Diego bounced back, tying the score at 27 with five minutes left on the first of three straight 3-point baskets by Carter. When he hit his second one, San Diego had a three-point advantage, its first edge since the game’s opening bucket.

Tyler Williams’ mid-range jumper gave San Diego a 35-30 lead and it was 37-34 at halftime. San Diego finished the first 20 minutes by converting 4 of 7 3-point shots.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: When Gonzaga fell behind early in the game, it was the first time it had trailed in four games. … The Bulldogs have earned at least a share of the WCC title in 17 of the past 18 seasons and 18 of the last 20. … Gonzaga is the only team in the nation with seven players to score at least 20 points in a game this season.

University of San Diego: The highest-ranked team the Toreros have beaten is No. 14 UCLA in the 2002-03 season. … Forward Cameron Neubauer was honored before the game on senior night.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga is at BYU on Saturday night.

San Diego is at San Francisco on Saturday night.

Carsen Edwards scores 40 points, No. 9 Purdue beats Illinois 93-86

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Carsen Edwards scored career-high 40 points and Dakota Mathias added 18 to help No. 9 Purdue outlast Illinois in a 93-86 victory on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers were without their second-leading scorer Vincent Edwards but had no problem scoring.

Purdue shot 58.3 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Edwards and Mathias each had four from behind the arc.

There were eight lead changes in the first half, highlighted by two big runs. With just under 10 minutes left Edwards stole the ball and went down for a huge dunk to spark a 17-6 run for the Boilermakers. The Illini responded with a 10-3 run to close out the half trailing 43-38.

Illinois stayed within striking distance the rest of the game, but ultimately Purdue’s size and Edwards scoring were too much. The sophomore scored 25 of his points in the second half, including a monstrous dunk on Trent Frazier with just under seven minutes to play.

The Boilermakers also outrebounded the Illini 33-20.

Leron Black led Illinois with 28 points, notching his fourth-consecutive 20-point game.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois continues to struggle in close games. The Illini have now lost 10 games this season by single digits.

After losing three straight games, Purdue has reestablished itself in the Big Ten with two close victories over Penn State and Illinois. The Boilermakers are one win away from tying the second most victories in school history.