Breaking Down the Sweet 16: Key matchups 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 key individual match-ups for each of the eight Sweet 16 games that will be played later this week.

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East Region

No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 2 Miami: Vander Blue vs. Durand Scott

Both Blue and Scott are expected by their respective teams to score, so their work on the defensive end will be just as important in this matchup on Thursday night. Despite the fact that Blue shot 50% from three in wins over Davidson and Butler, the fact remains that he’s just a 30.9% shooter from deep and relies on dribble penetration for the majority of his points. That’s where Scott, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, enters the equation. If he can keep Blue from getting to the rim too often Miami has the advantage.

No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Indiana: Victor Oladipo vs. Michael Carter-Williams

Given Carter-Williams’ 6-6 height it is highly unlikely that either Jordan Hulls or Yogi Ferrell will be asked to defend him much on Thursday. Look for Oladipo, one of the best defenders in the country, to get the assignment because as Carter-Williams goes so go the Orange. In Syracuse’s blowout of Montana the sophomore accounted for nine assists and two turnovers, but followed that up with three assists and five turnovers in a 66-60 win over Cal. In his last seven games Carter-Williams is averaging 7.1 assists and 4.1 turnovers per game, and if Oladipo’s pressure can keep Carter-Williams’ assist tally down Indiana will be in good shape.

West Region

No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 9 Wichita State: Jerrell Wright vs. Carl Hall

A very good argument can be made that the battle between Wichita State’s Malcolm Armstead and La Salle’s Tyreek Duren is the matchup to watch, but the Explorers’ lack of front court depth makes Wright vs. Hall the choice. With Steve Zack (foot) out the 6-8 Wright, who averaged 14.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in wins over Kansas State and Ole Miss, has to stay on the floor. He did a good job of that in Kansas City, and against a front court led by the active Hall that will need to be the case in Los Angeles as well if the Explorers are to advance. As for the Shockers Hall will need to be more active on the glass, as he grabbed just one rebound in the win over Gonzaga after grabbing six against Pittsburgh.

No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 2 Ohio State: Mark Lyons vs. Aaron Craft 

Easy choice here. Arizona’s had issues with turnovers at times and the decision-making of Lyons has come into play on multiple occasions this season. Neither of those issues can sprout up if the Wildcats are to beat the Buckeyes, and with Craft being one of the best defenders in the country he’s more than capable of causing some chaos if Lyons (and the other perimeter contributors) don’t take care of the basketball. In wins over Belmont and Harvard the Xavier transfer played very well, averaging 25.0 points per game and shooting 62.5% from the field, but Ohio State is far superior to either of those teams.

Midwest Region

No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 1 Louisville: Dominic Artis vs. Russ Smith 

After averaging 11.5 turnovers per game in Pac-12 tournament wins over Washington and Utah, Oregon’s turned the ball over an average of 17 times in their last three games (and on the season they turn the ball over on 21.5% of their possessions). They’re not going to get away with that against Louisville, making it very important that Artis (and Johnathan Loyd) take care of the basketball against the Louisville pressure. Russ Smith was their most tenacious perimeter defender last weekend, averaging 5.0 steals (eight vs. North Carolina A&T) to go along with his 25.0 points per game.

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Duke: Adreian Payne vs. Ryan Kelly 

Will it be the 6-10 Payne or athletic forward Branden Dawson who sees more time guarding Kelly on Friday? Look for Payne to be the answer and he was solid in wins over Valparaiso and Memphis, averaging 10.5 points (47.3% FG) and 7.0 rebounds per game. There’s no denying Kelly’s importance to the Duke attack but the Blue Devils picked up two victories in Philadelphia despite his struggles. Kelly scored just nine points total in wins over Albany and Creighton, shooting 3-of-13 in the two games. If a similar performance happens against Michigan State however, the Blue Devils may not be as fortunate.

South Region

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 1 Kansas: Trey Burke vs. Elijah Johnson

In Burke Michigan has the best point guard, and arguably the best player, in the country and if Kansas is to advance they’ll need to slow down the sophomore. But that’s just part of the task for Johnson, who did not play particularly well in wins over Western Kentucky and North Carolina. The senior shot a combined 2-of-12 in those games, averaging 3.0 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game. And given Burke’s ability as well as his taking care of the basketball (those seven turnovers against VCU were an anomaly), the Jayhawks need need Johnson to be at his best if they’re to win.

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida: Brett Comer vs. Scottie Wilbekin

While the dunks thrown down by FGCU have been highly entertaining the play of Comer is a big reason why the Eagles are the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16. In wins over Georgetown and San Diego State the sophomore averaged 12.0 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game, and the Gators will in all likelihood look to Wilbekin to slow him down. Wilbekin, who averages just 1.5 steals per game, is more the defender who looks to keep the offensive player from getting to his preferred spots on the floor and that will be critical given how lethal Comer can be in ball-screen situations. Keep Comer in check and the Gators have to like their chances of getting back to the Elite 8.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.

Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. returning to school

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Nebraska received some important news on Friday night as senior guard James Palmer Jr. will be back for next season.

The 6-foot-6 Palmer had tested the NBA draft waters, but he decided to return to the Cornhuskers. After putting up 17.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season, Palmer is expected to be an All-Big Ten candidate once again this season. Palmer shot 44 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three-point range last season.

After transferring in from Miami, Palmer became the Huskers’ go-to scorer last season in helping Nebraska to a 22-win season and NIT appearance.

With Palmer back, Nebraska will have some legitimate expectations for the upcoming season, especially if the team’s second-leading scorer, Isaac Copeland Jr., also returns from the NBA draft process.