(5) Purdue vs. (1) Connecticut
Thursday, 7:07 PM
The Boilermakers make their living by frustrating the heck out of the opponent's best perimeter scorer. In this game that means Chris Kramer will probably guard A.J. Price, who likely won't be registering a second consecutive 27-point game. That being said, I have to concur with Ken Pomeroy's "in the wrong region" tag with regard to the Boilers. I would like their chances more against any of the other one-seeds. For one thing Matt Painter is going to find his team is both much shorter and smaller of waist than the Huskies. That need not be an insurmountable obstacle, of course, if your plan is to out-quick the opponent. I doubt that will be Purdue's plan, however.
(4) Xavier vs. (1) Pitt
Thursday, 7:27 PM
Can Pitt snap out of it? Make no mistake, they need to do so. You could make an argument that the Panthers' two thoroughly unimpressive wins mark the biggest surprise of a surprise-free Sweet 16. Keep in mind the numbers for a one-seed should actually improve during the first weekend of the tournament, as the top seed fattens up on a 16 and the winner of the 8-9 game. (Good grief, look at UConn's numbers.) Pitt, on the other hand, didn't score as efficiently against East Tennessee State and Oklahoma State (neither of whom will be confused for Memphis on D) as they did in the rough and fabled Big East. I picked Jamie Dixon's team to get to the Final Four, but they definitely look shakier than I expected. Musketeers, grab your chance--because Sean Miller's team wouldn't figure to have much of one against the "old" Pitt team that I was seeing before March 12.
(3) Missouri vs. (2) Memphis
Thursday, 9:37 PM
I'm in awe of what Missouri has done this year. The first time I saw an entire game of theirs they lost by 16 to Illinois on a neutral floor in St. Louis, and I had to wonder if Mike Anderson was going to be able to get this thing off the ground in year three of his tenure. Well, he has. I'd venture to say that the Tiger team I saw sprinting out to a 16-point first-half lead against Marquette was the fulfillment of Anderson's vision: a team that's fast, balanced, smart and relentless. Alas, I don't like that fast, balanced smart, and relentless team's chances against Memphis. Missouri needs made baskets to set up its full-court pressure, and in John Calipari's team they face the single worst team in the nation to try to make baskets against. Then there's Mizzou's longstanding issues on the defensive glass. Even Cornell was able to rebound 38 percent of their misses against Anderson's team. I know I'm going out on a limb here, but Memphis might be even better on the offensive glass than Cornell is.
(3) Villanova vs. (2) Duke
Thursday, 9:37 PM
I've been making a nuisance of myself for a while now, murmuring that Duke's defense is suspect. Well, if that's correct this is the game in which a suspect defense should be exposed. Villanova was last seen disemboweling UCLA while doing a pretty good imitation of Florida in 2007 on offense. I suspect the Wildcats have spent a good portion of the week looking at tape of Texas' Varez Ward repeatedly driving to the rim against the Blue Devils in the second round. Of course, Mike Krzyzewski's team is no slouch on offense either. They simply don't turn the ball over, ever. Leading the zero-tolerance policy on this front is Jon Scheyer, who confuses me greatly. Why on earth do teams foul him so often? Scheyer's excellent free throw percentage is almost exactly twice as good as his abysmal two-point percentage. Hint for 'Nova: let Scheyer shoot that two.
(12) Arizona vs. (1) Louisville
Friday, 7:07 PM
If Russ Pennell were given the luxury of choosing which one-seed his team got to play, he would choose the Cardinals, possessors of a more limited offense than those displayed by Connecticut, Pitt or North Carolina. That's important for a defense as limited as the Wildcats'. Nor do I expect Arizona to give the ball away much against Rick Pitino's defensive pressure. If Siena can take care of the rock against this D, I would wager the 'Cats can too. Still, I'm not sure beating Utah and Cleveland State is preparation enough for facing Louisville, which of late has been relying on its depth to beat up pretty much everyone but the Saints. Fun fact: the last five teams to play Louisville have been outscored by the Cardinals 204-138 in the second half.
(3) Syracuse vs. (2) Oklahoma
Friday, 7:27 PM
I know I've been pretty skeptical of Oklahoma for much of the season, but on paper there would figure to be two-seeds Jim Boeheim would rather see right now. Not to master the obvious here, but for one thing OU has Blake Griffin. For another, they're actually a good perimeter shooting team: only Kansas made a higher percentage of their threes in Big 12 play. I'll be surprised if either offense in this game has trouble scoring. The only thing limiting Syracuse's offense this season was turnovers and the Sooners, like Arizona State, don't pressure the ball to any felonious degree. It promises to be good TV: lots of points in pretty equal amounts from both teams.
(3) Kansas vs. (2) Michigan State
Friday, 9:37 PM
There is not a doubt in my mind that if USC had defeated Michigan State, Kansas would be facing an honest-to-goodness triangle-and-two defense in this game. With an offense where anyone not named "Sherron Collins" or "Cole Aldrich" is forbidden by state law to attempt a shot, the Jayhawks were born to face that look. The Spartans prevailed against the Trojans, however, and so Tom Izzo's defense will play KU straight up. Truth be told, that defense has had a lot of success this year playing opponents straight up. When MSU has the ball, this game will mark the first real test of their crash-the-glass mode of scoring. Aldrich is one of the finest defensive rebounders in the nation, playing for a team that yet again led the Big 12 in this category. This game could be bizarro Syracuse/Oklahoma: close but low-efficiency on offense.
(4) Gonzaga vs. (1) North Carolina
Friday, 9:57 PM
Gonzaga makes life difficult for people who write about college basketball and, by Godfrey, I'm miffed about it. I can show you numbers, charts, dioramas, PowerPoint slides, puppet shows and mime troupes that would all seem to show conclusively that this team has a very good defense. Maybe they do, but if so it's a very good defense that was torched in a flash and reduced to a smoldering ruin by Western Kentucky. One would think if the Hilltoppers can achieve good results in this direction, so too can the Bulldogs' next opponent. That next opponent's offense is pretty good.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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