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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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.
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.
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.
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.