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Sweet 16 Preview: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA

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On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

WHEN: Thursday, 9:45 p.m.

WHERE: FedEx Forum, Memphis (South Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: Why doesn’t Billy Donovan’s come up more when discussing the best coach in college basketball? A win on Thursday will send him to his fourth consecutive Elite 8, the first three of which came with an offense built around Kenny Boynton. He’s won two National Titles and could end up making his fourth Final Four this season. He lands elite talent and can also develop players into quality pieces in for his system. At the same time, Steve Alford will be trying to make his first career Elite 8. His predecessor made three straight Final Fours and was fired after winning the Pac-12 title.

KEY STATS: There’s an argument to be made here that UCLA has the best transition attack in the country. An impressive 21.2% of their possessions are used in transition, a number that ranks them 13th nationally. They average 1.170 points-per-possession in transition as well, which gives them the most efficiency fast break among the 30 teams that have the highest percentage of transition possessions. Florida, however, ranks in the 95th percentile nationally in transition defense and, per KenPom, force teams into the second-longest average possession.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWSDayton-Stanford | Wisconsin-Baylor | Arizona-San Diego State

Iowa State-UConn | Michigan-Tennessee | Virginia-Michigan State | Louisville-Kentucky

KEY PLAYERS: The single-most important player on the floor in this game — and arguably the single-most important player left in the NCAA tournament — is Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin. He’s Florida’s closer, the guy that makes the big shots in the big moments as the Gators are trying to close out a game. I’m not sure there is a better ‘big shot maker’ in the country than Wilbekin, and I’m not sure that UCLA has an ideal matchup for him.

POINT SPREAD: Florida (-4.5)


1. Who guards Kyle Anderson?: Slo-mo is the most unique player in all of college basketball. He’s slow, he’s not all that explosive and he’s 6-foot-9, but he’s UCLA’s point guard, their facilitator offensively, while averaging 14.7 points, 8.7 boards and 6.5 assists. He’s so slow that he actually gets defenders off-balance, which, when combined with his ability to handle the ball, makes him a nightmare matchup for big men. Who does Florida use to guard him?

2. UCLA’s zone: Most of the elite teams in the country can be zoned pretty effectively this season, and Florida is one of those teams. The Gators don’t have a ton of perimeter shooters, and as a team they’re shooting just 25% from beyond the arc during the NCAA tournament. The Bruins play zone 36% of the time, according to Synergy.

3. Florida changing defenses: What makes the Gators so difficult to prepare for is the fact that they can give so many different looks defensively. They can play man-to-man, straight up or switching all exchanges 1-through-4. They can switch pick-and-rolls. They play an extended 1-3-1 zone that is a nightmare given their length and athleticism. They press on 16% of their defensive possessions. It is not easy to prepare for.


Sweet 16 Previews: No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton

Archie Miller
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On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

WHEN: Thursday, 7:15 p.m.

WHERE: FedEx Forum, Memphis (South Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: Regardless of who ends up winning this game, there will be a double-digit seed playing for the right to go to the Final Four. What may be more interesting, however, is the effect that this run has had on the job status of both coaches. Johnny Dawkins was one of a handful of coaches that potentially had their job on the line in they missed the 2014 NCAA tournament. A run to the Elite 8 would not only save his job, it could result in Dawkins getting a raise. Archie Miller already got his. Getting a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team into the tournament was impressive enough, but the run to the Sweet 16 earned him a pay bump and a contract extension as he suddenly became a popular name in coaching circles.

KEY STATS: Despite their size, Stanford is not a great offensive rebounding team. Part of that is stylistic, as they just don’t put a priority on second chance points, but it also has to do with the fact that the Cardinal simply are not that good at defending in transition, ranking in the 37th percentile nationally in transition defense, according to Synergy. The Flyers aren’t exactly the second-coming of the Showtime Lakers, but they do get out and run, and they should have an advantage when they do.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWSWisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-San Diego State

Iowa State-UConn | Michigan-Tennessee | Virginia-Michigan State | Louisville-Kentucky

KEY PLAYERS: Dyshawn Pierre and Devin Oliver. Stanford is going to have a decided size advantage over Dayton, particularly in the front court. If they can slow down Dwight Powell, who is Stanford’s best facilitator offensively despite being 6-foot-10, and Josh Huestis and take advantage of the matchup offensively, the Flyers will have a shot.

POINT SPREAD: It opened at Stanford (-2 or -2.5) and has moved to (-3).


1. Chasson Randle: The Stanford point guard that’s really a scoring guard will be the best player on the floor. More than anyone in this game, Randle is a guy that is capable of taking over offensively.

2. Turnovers: The Cardinal are generally pretty good at protecting the ball, but with Aaron Bright done for the season, Stanford can struggle with turnovers at times when they get pressed. It almost cost them the game against Kansas, and while Dayton isn’t exactly VCU, they have some athletes that they can roll out defensively.

3. Dayton’s shooters: The biggest strength for the Flyers offensively is their ability to shoot from the perimeter. They don’t have a ton of size inside, they’re not all that effective scoring around the rim and they can be turnover prone at times, but they shoot 37.6% from beyond the arc with Oliver and Pierre at 38.9% and 40.0% respectively. Powell and Huestis will have to get out to them.

CBT PREDICTION: No. 10 Stanford wins by 10

No. 4 UCLA reaches their first Sweet 16 since 2008

Stephen F. Austin v UCLA
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Jordan Adams finished with 19 points, Normal Powell added 16 and Kyle Anderson finished with 15 points, eight boards and five assists as No. 4 UCLA rolled past No. 12 Stephen F. Austin, 77-60.

It will be the first trip for UCLA to the Sweet 16 since 2008. That was the last of three straight Final Four trips for former Bruins head coach Ben Howland, who was let go last season despite winning the Pac-12 title. The Bruins’ brass wanted to win more, especially in March, and it looks like Alford is getting that done.

And if you know anything about Alford’s past, there is some irony there. This is the first time that he has reached the Sweet 16 this century. Seriously. The last time that he was in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament was three jobs ago, when he was the head coach Southwest Missouri State and made a run as a No. 12 seed. He has won as many tournament games this season as he did in the 14 years between Sweet 16 trips.

The Bruins will advance to the Sweet 16, where they will have a date with the overall No. 1 seed, Florida. UCLA will have their work cut out for them in that game, as Florida’s last loss came on Dec. 2nd. They are undefeated with Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin both in the lineup.

The loss was the first for the Lumberjacks in exactly four months, as they had won 29 straight games.

Joel Embiid’s back costs Kansas their shot at greatness

Joel Embiid
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Injuries have taken their toll on college basketball more this season than in any season that I can remember, especially when it comes to those teams that are chasing Final Fours and national titles.

Michigan’s Mitch McGary had back issues all offseason and finally decided to get surgery, effectively ending his season, back in December. Arizona lost Brandon Ashley for the season when he broke his foot in January. Michigan State ended up as a No. 4 seed in large part because their four stars spent the season bouncing in and out of the lineup. Oklahoma State center Michael Cobbins ruptured his achilles tendon, leaving the Cowboys with a severe lack of depth in their front court.

Most recently, Iowa State suffered a massive blow when Georges Niang, their third-leading scorer and one of their most important pieces due to his ability to create mismatches for opponents, broke his foot in their opening round NCAA tournament game.

It’s a shame, really.

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

Four of those teams were in the preseason top ten, and the only one that wasn’t, Iowa State, was in the top ten as we entered the tournament.

Four of those teams entered the NCAA tournament as national title contenders, and the only one that didn’t, Oklahoma State, was a trendy Final Four sleeper.

But none of them compare to the importance of Kansas missing Joel Embiid.

For those that don’t know, Embiid was the projected by many as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft for much of the season, only losing his grip on that consensus tag when a stress fracture in his spine started acting up. He aggravated the injury in a fall three weeks back against Oklahoma State, sat out the last two games of the regular season, missed the Big 12 tournament and was not available this weekend in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

And without Embiid, the Jayhawks struggled against No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky before ultimately getting bounced by No. 10 seed Stanford on Sunday afternoon.

You may not agree, but I have no problem saying this: Kansas would not have lost to Stanford if Joel Embiid was in the lineup.

You don’t need to be the second coming of John Wooden to figure out that Kansas was nothing more than good without Embiid in the lineup.

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He was their anchor defensively, a shot blocker that cleaned up a lot of the mess caused by the mediocre perimeter defense this Kansas team had a habit of playing. He was their best low-post scorer, a guy that could get a bucket with his back to the basket and had the length and athleticism to be an option at the rim when the Kansas guards drove the lane. He brought a toughness and a tenacity to this group that some of their other stars seemed to lack; there were a number of times this season where Embiid was charged with a flagrant or a technical for emotional outbursts, and while those can hurt a team in the moment, that passion is not a bad thing for a team to have on the floor.

And if that wasn’t enough, Stanford just so happened to have the kind of personnel that could take advantage of Embiid’s absence. Johnny Dawkins has a seemingly endless string of seven-footers on his bench, all of whom were talented enough offensively to create problems for the suddenly-undersized Jayhawks. There’s a reason Tarik Black fouled out. There’s a reason that Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor were a combined 4-for-18 from the floor, the majority of which came around the rim.

That’s not the entire reason that the Jayhawks stumbled through Sunday’s loss. Andrew Wiggins finished with as many turnovers as points and only managed to get six shots up. Other than Conner Frankamp and Tarik Black, the Jayhawks shot 9-for-42 from the floor and just 1-for-9 from three.

Those numbers aren’t good by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not trying to argue that they are.

But it is worth noting that despite all of those bad basketball, Kansas lost by just three.

Embiid would have been the difference.

And if he were healthy — or if Kansas had been able to make it through to the Sweet 16, as Embiid told reporters after the game he would have been back on Thursday — we would have had a chance to see a team with potentially the top two picks in the NBA Draft try to make a run through the NCAA tournament.

Instead, Kansas is heading home.

And with all due respect to Johnny Dawkins and his Stanford team, that’s a shame.

At their best, at their healthiest, the Jayhawks are as probably good as anyone in the country.

But we’ll never get the chance to see them prove it.

No. 11 Dayton upsets No. 3 Syracuse

Archie Miller
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Dyshawn Pierre led No. 11 seed Dayton with 14 points and Tyler Ennis missed a pair of go-ahead jumpers in the final 20 seconds as the Flyers upset No. 3 Syracuse in the Round of 32, 55-53.

The win sends the Flyers to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years. They’ll play the winner of tomorrow afternoon’s game between No. 2 Kansas and No. 10 Stanford.

“Every time you advance it feels a little better,” Dayton head coach Archie Miller told TBS after the game. In the opening round, he beat his former boss, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta. “If you’re going to beat Syracuse in here you need a little bit of luck, and fortunately the last one didn’t go in.”

The Flyers are now the lone representative of the Atlantic 10, a conference that had six teams dance, remaining in the tournament.

The win may be bittersweet for Dayton fans, however. Regardless of what happens the rest of this tournament, Miller may not be in Dayton all that much longer. His coaching pedigree is as good as any young coach in the country, and he’s the younger brother of Arizona head coach Sean Miller, and he’s now taken the Flyers from a team that was expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the A-10 to the second weekend of the Big Dance.

That’s impressive enough to get a phone call from Marquette, Wake Forest, Boston College or one of the other high major jobs that opened up this month. At the very least, Miller just earned himself a hefty raise.

The first 25 minutes of this game were about as difficult to watch as NCAA tournament basketball gets, as Dayton couldn’t figure out Syracuse’s defense and Syracuse, frankly, couldn’t figure out their own offense. The Flyers began to get better ball movement, and thus better shots, against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone midway through the second half, right around the same time that Ennis finally figured out that he was going to have to start being people off the dribble if the Orange were going to score.

What was confusing, however, was the fact that Ennis opted not to try and drive on the final two possessions. He was not only getting into the paint at will late in the second half, he was starting to get the kind of friendly whistle that you expect superstars to get. And while he’ll likely be criticized for missing those jumpers, it’s important to remember that the Orange would not have been in a position to win the game had it not been for Ennis.

It was a microcosm of the Syracuse season.

For the last three months, the Orange had made an unfortunate habit out of playing down to their opponent, struggling to shoot from the perimeter and relying on Ennis to bail them out down the stretch.

Ennis just ran out of big buckets.

Kansas will be without Joel Embiid on Sunday vs. Stanford

Joel Embiid
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On Friday, Kansas, the No. 2 seed in the South Region, got past upset-minded Eastern Kentucky, 80-69, in the Round of 64. For the Jayhawks, it was the fifth straight game playing without freshman center Joel Embiid, who is dealing with a back injury.

When KU takes the floor in St. Louis on Sunday against No. 10 Stanford, Embiid will miss a sixth consecutive game, according to a report from Jeff Goodman of ESPN. Entering the NCAA tournament, it was unlikely that Embiid would be able to go during the first weekend, and Kansas head coach Bill Self made that official on Saturday afternoon.

Self also told Goodman that Embiid would be questionable to appear in the Sweet 16, if the Jayhawks can get past the Cardinal on Sunday.

Even without Embiid in the lineup, KU still has a good frontline with second leading scorer Perry Ellis while Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor have both stepped up in recent games, such as Traylor’s 17 points and 14 rebounds against Eastern Kentucky. Despite missing Embiid’s 2.6 blocks per game, the Jayhawks were able to reject seven of the Colonels’ attempts on Friday.

Clearly, they will go up against a much better team on Sunday. The attention might be on Kansas’ missing piece inside, but the Jayhawks will need to focus in on the Cardinal’s talented backcourt of Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown. Both of them played every minute of Thursday’s win over New Mexico, scoring 33 of Stanford’s 58 points off 10-of-23 (6-of-9 from three) shooting.

The Stanford-Kansas Round of 32 matchup is scheduled to tip at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.