Sweet 16 Preview: Ranking The Matchups 1-8

Not sure about everyone else, but I have suffering some serious tournament withdrawal these last couple days after being spoiled with 48 games from Thursday through Sunday.

Fear not my friends, as things get rolling again on Thursday when the East and West regionals tip off in Boston and Phoenix, respectively.

I’ve already previewed each game, but in order to hold me over until Thursday night, I decided to rank the Sweet 16 games.  Plan accordingly.

1. #1 Kentucky vs. #4 Indiana

  • Date: Friday, March 23rd
  • Tip Time: 9:45 ET (approx.)
  • Channel: CBS
  • Announcers: Clark Kellogg/Jim Nantz
  • Preview

It’s tough to pick anything else here.  You have a rematch of one of the season’s best games between two rivals, who just so happen to be two of the most storied programs in all of college basketball.

The obvious matchup to watch here is between freshman phenoms Anthony Davis and Cody Zeller, as the Hoosiers will try to find ways to pull Davis away from the basket and get him in foul trouble like they did in the first meeting.

But don’t sleep on the importance of the Terrence Jones-Christian Watford matchup.  Jones was essentially a no-show in the first meeting, while Watford has been playing some of his best basketball down the stretch.  I’m not sure any player is more critical to IU’s chances of springing the upset.

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Chrstian Watford rises to fire the game-winning shot against Kentucky in December.

2. #3 Marquette vs. #7 Florida

  • Date: Thursday, March 22nd
  • Tip Time: 10:17 ET (approx.)
  • Channel: TBS
  • Announcers: Kevin Harlan/Len Elmore/Reggie Miller
  • Preview

Over the course of the season, there are few teams I have enjoyed watching more than Marquette, and this game should be wildly entertaining.

Each team boasts a stable of talented guards, which should create some terrific backcourt matchups.  I also look forward to seeing how often Jae Crowder and Patric Young will match up in the frontcourt as well as how Florida handles the aggressive Marquette attack on both ends of the floor.

For the Gators, they have been extremely reliant on the three-point shot this season, so Marquette’s perimeter defense will also be critical.

3. #1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville

  • Date: Thursday, March 22nd
  • Tip Time: 7:47 ET
  • Channel: TBS
  • Announcers: Kevin Harlan/Len Elmore/Reggie Miller
  • Preview

Look for a defensive battle in this one, as both squads are among the nation’s most efficient squads on the defensive end.

MSU’s talented front line trio of Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, and Adreian Payne will be a challenge for Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, but the Spartans have their work cut out for them in terms of containing Peyton Siva.

This one also features a terrific coaching matchup between Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino.

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4. #2 Ohio State vs. #6 Cincinnati

  • Date: Thursday, March 22nd
  • Tip Time: 9:45 ET (approx.)
  • Channel: CBS
  • Announcers: Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery
  • Preview

Interestingly enough these two teams rarely meet despite being about 100 miles apart.

This one should also be a defensive struggle as well, and the on-ball defense should be fantastic with guys like Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, and Aaron Craft all ranking among the national leaders in steal percentage.

For Ohio State, sophomore Deshaun Thomas has arguably been the team’s top player over the last few weeks, so it will be interesting to see how the Bearcats try to keep him in check.  The low post matchup between Jared Sullinger and Yancy Gates should be a battle on both ends.

5. #1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin

  • Date: Thursday, March 22nd
  • Tip Time: 7:15 ET
  • Channel: CBS
  • Announcers: Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery
  • Preview

If you like high-scoring games, this one probably isn’t for you.  However, it will be interesting to see how Wisconsin, who rarely turns the ball over, will fare against Syracuse’s defense, which is one of the best at forcing miscues.

Three-point shooting will be key for Wisconsin, both because the Badgers will be playing against Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone and because they take such a high percentage of their shots from long range.

The Orange have survived without Fab Melo so far, but I also saw a stat this week saying Jim Boeheim has never beaten a Big Ten team in the tournament, which I found incredibly surprising.

6. #3 Baylor vs. #10 Xavier

  • Date: Friday, March 23rd
  • Tip Time: 7:15 ET
  • Channel: CBS
  • Announcers: Clark Kellogg/Jim Nantz
  • Preview

It’s tough to beat the point guard matchup in this game featuring Pierre Jackson and Tu Holloway.  Both guys are relentless in attacking the basket and are as clutch as they come in late-game situations.

I’m interested to see how Kenny Frease stacks up against Baylor’s long and athletic front line, and of course you never know what kind of hideous unis the Bears might throw on for this game.  Both teams spent time in the Top 10 this year as well.

7. #2 Kansas vs. #11 North Carolina State

  • Date: Friday, March 23rd
  • Tip Time: 10:17 ET (approx.)
  • Channel: TBS
  • Announcers: Marv Albert/Steve Kerr
  • Preview

The Wolfpack have gone from the bubble to the Sweet Sixteen in just a couple weeks, so they certainly come in with plenty of momentum.  Kansas used a late rally to knock off Purdue on Sunday night, and the Boilers provided an interesting blueprint for defending Thomas Robinson.

N.C. State certainly isn’t short on frontcourt talent, as both C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell have been terrific lately.  They should challenge KU’s duo of Robinson and Jeff Withey — and vice versa.

If it’s point guard play you’re looking for, keep an eye on KU’s Tyshawn Taylor and North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Brown, whose impressive sophomore season has flown a bit under the radar.

8. #1 North Carolina vs. #13 Ohio

  • Date: Friday, March 23rd
  • Tip Time: 7:47 ET
  • Channel: TBS
  • Announcers: Marv Albert/Steve Kerr
  • Preview

Thanks to Kendall Marshall’s wrist injury, very little attention has been paid to the action on the floor.  The Heels have a huge advantage up front, but if Marshall can’t go, UNC’s big men may struggle to consistently get the ball, particularly against an Ohio team that forces turnovers at a high rate.

At this point it’s unclear whether Marshall, who had surgery on Monday, will suit up for this game; but either way, Ohio guard D.J. Cooper will prove to be a tough cover for the Heels.



About Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms

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