Phoenix is the host for the West Region quarterfinal and semifinal games this weekend, better known as the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8. The quarterfinal games tip off tonight.
To see my ranking from 1-8 of all the Sweet 16 matchups, click here.
Are we on a crash course to see Tom Izzo against Buzz Williams in the Elite 8? Or can red hot Florida and/or surging Louisville become an upset entrant in to the regional final round?
West Regional Info
- Arena: US Airways Center
- City: Phoenix, AZ
- Tickets: Session 1 – March 22rd
- Tickets: Session 2 – March 24th
- Tickets: Both session
#1 Michigan State v #4 Louisville
- Michigan State-Louisville Date: Thursday, 3/22
- Michigan State-Louisville Tip Time: 7:47 ET
- Michigan State-Louisville TV: TBS
- Michigan State-Louisville Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, and Reggie Miller
- Michigan State-Louisville Point Spread: Michigan State -5
What’s your pick?
Who do you think will win the Sweet 16 matchup between Michigan State and Louisville?
- Michigan State Spartans (75%, 12 Votes)
- Louisville Cardinals (25%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 16
#3 Marquette and #7 Florida
- Marquette-Florida Date: Thursday, 3/22
- Marquette-Florida Tip Time: 10:17 ET
- Marquette-Florida TV: TBS
- Marquette-Florida Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, and Reggie Miller
- Marquette-Florida Point Spread: Marquette -1.5
What’s your pick?
Who do you think will win the Sweet 16 matchup between Marquette and Florida?
- Marquette Golden Eagles (46%, 6 Votes)
- Florida Gators (54%, 7 Votes)
Total Voters: 13
Michigan State-Louisville Preview, Prediction, and Team Info
The top seeds held serve in the upper half of the West region, with Michigan State and Louisville both taking care of business on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State won a hard fought defensive struggle against Saint Louis on Sunday to make the Sweet Sixteen. Keith Appling led the team in scoring with 19 points, but Draymond Green had another fantastic all-around game with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists.
The Cardinals held off a late rally from New Mexico to win on Saturday night, with guard Russ Smith leading the way with 17 points and three steals.
Michigan State-Louisville By The Numbers
When the two teams meet in Phoenix on Thursday, two of the nation’s three most efficient defenses will take the floor. The difference, however, is that Michigan State’s offensive efficiency is also in the Top 10, while Louisville’s ranks outside of the Top 100.
The Cardinals’ strength on offense is a high offensive rebounding percentage, which ranks inside the Top 50. However, the Spartans are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation, which should set up a fierce battle on the boards.
Aside from that, Louisville has struggled with their shooting throughout the season, hitting just 31.3 percent from deep and 47.9 percent on two-pointers. Meanwhile, Michigan State is in the Top 15 in field goal defense both inside and outside the arc, which obviously doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have also struggled with a high turnover rate this year, but the Spartans don’t force them at a high rate, so that shouldn’t come into play. The teams are also fairly even in terms of free throw rate.
On the other end of the floor, Louisville is equally stingy in terms of field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot just over 30 percent from beyond the arc and under 42 percent on two-pointers. That being said, the Spartans have been proficient inside, as evidenced by 52.4 percent two-point shooting. Look for a great battle inside between Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, and Adreian Payne for the Spartans and Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan for the Cardinals.
Michigan State will need to take care of the basketball against a Louisville defense that forces turnovers on over 23 percent of their opponents’ possessions. The Spartans are right around the middle of the pack in terms of their offensive turnover rate, but Appling, Brandon Wood, and Travis Trice need to be prepared to handle Louisville’s pressure.
For Louisville to win though, they have to do a better job on the defensive glass. For the year, they rank outside of the Top 250 in defensive rebounding percentage, which is a huge concern heading into a game against a Spartans squad that ranks in the Top 25 in offensive rebounding percentage. Even without the injured Branden Dawson, MSU features multiple players proficient at collecting offensive boards.
Michigan State-Louisville Prediction
Consequently, inside play is one area to watch. The Cardinals were able to weather the storm when Dieng got into foul trouble against Davidson, but I’m not sure they could withstand the same thing here given their lack of depth inside against a tough Michigan State front line.
The other individual matchup will be between Keith Appling and Peyton Siva. Louisville is at its best offensively when Siva is getting into the lane and creating for his teammates. Appling is Sparty’s best perimeter defender, but he will have his hands full on Thursday night.
In the end, I’ll take the team with the better offense in a matchup with two stout defensive clubs. The Spartans are one of the top rebounding teams in the country, and they should be able to exploit Louisville’s weakness on the defensive glass.
Predicted Winner: Michigan State
Marquette-Florida Preview, Prediction, and Team Info
Second place teams from the Big East and SEC will face off on Thursday in Phoenix when Marquette and Florida meet with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
The Golden Eagles used an impressive late run to oust Murray State, with both Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom scoring 17 points to pace the team.
On Sunday, Florida jumped all over Norfolk State early and never looked back in a 34-point win. Five Gators scored in double figures, led by Kenny Boynton with 20 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Marquette-Florida By The Numbers
For Florida, the clear strength is its offense, which ranks third in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Gators shoot over 44 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, and they make over 38 percent from deep. They also shoot it well inside the arc and have one of the lowest turnover rates in the country. Because they shoot so many threes, their free throw rate is relatively low, so don’t expect many trips to the stripe.
Marquette’s defense is tough though, ranking in the Top 20 in adjusted efficiency. With the exception of a poor defensive rebounding percentage, the Golden Eagles have solid numbers in the other three factors on defense. They rank in the Top 65 against both two-and three-pointers, both of which will be key against the Gators. They also force turnovers at a high rate and don’t put their opponents on the line very often.
Offensive rebounding bears watching though, as the Golden Eagles rank outside of the Top 300 in defensive rebounding percentage. The Gators aren’t elite in that regard, but guys like Patric Young and Casey Prather boast high offensive rebounding percentages and could give Marquette trouble on the glass.
When Marquette has the ball, they would seem to have an advantage, as the Golden Eagles rank in the Top 30 in offensive efficiency while the Gators are outside of the Top 80 on defense. Interestingly enough though, the teams’ strengths match up relatively well. Marquette boasts a 41.3 free throw rate, which is just inside the Top 50, but the Gators rank just inside the Top 50 in limiting their opponents’ trips to the stripe. Something has to give there, as the ultra-aggressive Golden Eagles love to force the action.
The two teams are relatively even on the glass, and I wouldn’t expect many turnovers based on their respective rankings in that category. That leaves shooting, where Marquette makes 50.5 percent of their twos, while the Gators rank outside of the Top 125 in two-point defense. And even though Marquette doesn’t shoot it all that well from deep (33.9 percent), Florida has struggled to defend the perimeter as well. The Golden Eagles take a relatively low percentage of their shots from long range though, as they would much rather attack the basket, which has in turn led to their aforementioned free throw rate.
In terms of individual matchups, I will be intrigued to see how things line up in the backcourt. Florida has a number of talented guards, led by Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and freshman Bradley Beal, but Marquette has strong backcourt play as well with Johnson-Odom, point guard Junior Cadougan, and freshman Todd Mayo, who has played well of late.
For me, the difference will be the play of Crowder and DJO for Marquette. Those two will be the toughest two players on the court, and I think the cumulative effect of the Golden Eagles’ aggressiveness will take its toll on Florida.
Predicted Winner: Marquette
Continue reading to see Andy’s tournament capsule for each team.