With the Sweet 16 not tipping off for another two days, this seemed like a good time to offer up some basic thoughts on the match-ups. Here are the four games in the East and West regions, where play will begin on Thursday night.
East Region (Boston)
(1) Syracuse vs. (4) Wisconsin (7:15 PM, CBS)
This will be an interesting matchup due to the 3-point shot. Playing against a zone defense tends to lead teams in the direction of attempting more shots from beyond the arc than they normally do, but Wisconsin may be fine with that. Bo Ryan's team scores 36.3% of its points on the 3-pointer, and they've got multiple players who can and will fire away.
Rob Wilson's played well down the stretch for Wisconsin, providing another perimeter scorer to go along with senior point guard Jordan Taylor. Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans will both step out on the perimeter, and there's also Ben Brust and Josh Gasser for Syracuse to account for. However if there's one thing that Syracuse does well in defending the three (30.7%) it that they know who they want taking those shots.
Syracuse can also extend their defense due to the activity of a guard like Dion Waiters and the length of their wings. The three will be the most discussed factor going into Thursday's contest, but there's also the matter of how well Rakeem Christmas plays. The freshman had a very good second half against Kansas State, and he'll need to do that for all 40 minutes against Jared Berggren.
How well will the Syracuse guards play in what should be a slower tempo than they prefer (Wisconsin averages eight fewer possessions per game)? Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche can't get out of control in hopes of speeding things up, and the same likely goes for a Kris Joseph as well. Lastly keep an eye on how well Syracuse cleans up the offensive glass. The Badgers aren't world-beaters when it comes to offensive rebounds, but there will be opportunities against a team that allows opponents to grab 39.7% of their misses.
(2) Ohio State vs. (6) Cincinnati (9:45 PM, CBS)
It's a chore to get these two schools to play each other, and that will add intrigue to the second half of Thursday's doubleheader in Boston. While Cincinnati has gone small they do have bodies in the paint, led by Yancy Gates and Justin Jackson. But the question for Cincinnati is how do they go about slowing down Deshaun Thomas. With Jaquon Parker at the "4" to start things off, look for the Buckeyes to try to get Thomas going early.
The combo of Thomas and Jared Sullinger is tough for just about any team to stop, and that could be the case for the Bearcats if Yates were to land in early foul trouble. The key to limiting their paint touches may actually lie on the perimeter, where it's imperative that Cincinnati not allow Aaron Craft and others clean looks into the post. William Buford can hurt teams in a variety of ways offensively, but forcing him to take challenged shots is the way to go there.
Which UC guard is the most important one for the Buckeyes to slow down? That would be Cashmere Wright, as he runs the show. Wright has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1, and to reach that number (if not better) against Craft would bode well for the Bearcats' chances. He'll have help from Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick is a very good perimeter shooter who can get hot, but Wright's play may determine the outcome.
Both teams have done well when it comes to forcing turnovers (UC: 14.1, OSU: 14.7) but the Buckeyes have been the more efficient of the two on both ends of the floor. Paint touches for the Buckeyes and the number of 3-pointers that Cincinnati can make (they will take a lot of them) are areas to keep an eye on in the nightcap.
West Region (Phoenix)
(1) Michigan State vs. (4) Louisville (7:47 PM, TBS)
A rematch of the 2009 Midwest regional final, these two teams enter in different roles this time around. That season Louisville was the top overall seed in the tournament coming off of a blowout win over Arizona, only to see the Spartans advance to the Final Four. While Louisville has played their best basketball of the season over the last two weeks, they'll be the underdog against Michigan State.
The biggest question for the Cardinals is how they go about defending Draymond Green, who is as influential a players as you'll find in the country. He can score inside or out, is a good distributor and will also hit the glass. Louisville will pressure and then use an active 2-3 zone, so that may help slow Green down some. But one would have to think that he'll spend a lot of time in the high post, an important area to target in regards to cracking the 2-3 zone.
From an efficieny standpoint the Spartans are the better offensive team and that has a lot to do with the fact that they don't settle for bad shots. The same can't always be said for Louisville, especially guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both are going to play fast and that's fine, but the Cardinals can't afford for them to play reckless. Keith Appling will be dared to shoot by Louisville, and Michigan State will hope that his big shot against Saint Louis gives the sophomore some added confidence in his ability to make the Cardinals pay.
Two other players to watch for Michigan State are Derrick Nix and Adriean Payne, who have both played well down the stretch for the Spartans. Michigan State is the superior rebounding team, and if these two can build on what they've been able to produce (especially last weekend in Columbus) it will be a tough match-up for Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng. Louisville needs Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith to be productive on the wings, and with MSU's Branden Dawson done for the year it may be even more important that the Cardinals take advantage of his absence and do so.
(3) Marquette vs. (7) Florida (10:17 PM, TBS)
While both teams have rotations dominated by guards the big men may have the final say as to which team advances to the Elite 8. Marquette was able to get 12 minutes out of Davante Gardner on Saturday in spite of his balky knee, but it remains to be seen how effective he can be against Florida. The days off should help Gardner recuperate some, and that's crucial as he'll likely see a lot of Patric Young when on the floor.
Young is a highly-athletic big man who gets high-percentage looks around the rim. The key for Young is whether his teammates fall in love with the three. If Florida takes smart perimeter shots they're tough to beat, but clearly that hasn't always been the case. Erik Murphy can step out and knock down threes, giving Florida a "stretch 4" that's tough for most teams to match up with.
Marquette can counter with Jae Crowder however, so Murphy's impact could most likely be lessened on Thursday. Jamil Wilson will be in the rotation of forwards who get a shot at defending Young, and if he can get Marquette in some early foul trouble that would bode well for the Florida. On the perimeter Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker have to make sound decisions with the basketball, and that includes making sure Bradley Beal gets his touches. The freshman is a tough matchup for anyone, and that includes Marquette despite their perimeter skill.
Can Florida slow down Darius Johnson-Odom? One would think that Boynton and Beal would be the two most likely given this task, and if they can mix things up in terms of the looks that Johnson-Odom sees that would be optimal. Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan and Todd Mayo will also factor into the Marquette attack, and with Mayo playing well last week that gives them another perimeter option who can get things done.
Marquette's done a good job of defending the three but they haven't been as good on the defensive glass, allowing opponents to grab 35.5% of their misses. Florida scores 38% of their points on 3-pointers while Marquette allows teams just 27% of their points on the shot, so something has to give there.
Tempo neutral stats courtesy of statsheet.com.