The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament bestowed on us all of the drama that we’ve come to expect this time of year. Upset after upset showed us why we tune in to enjoy March Madness. In staying with the theme of the first week, here are some Sweet Sixteen matches that you do not want to miss.
Duke Blue Devils vs. Villanova Wildcats
This may be the best matchup within the round of 16. Both teams look to spread the floor on offense, allowing dribble drive opportunities and timely three point chances. Villanova’s guard play has been spectacular all year behind the consistent performance of Scottie Reynolds and sixth man Corey Stokes. The Blue Devils will counter with sharp shooter Jon Scheyer as well as do it all forwards Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson.
I believe the real difference maker will be Villanova forward Dante Cunningham. I don’t see an individual defender that can deal with him on Duke’s roster; look for the Wildcats to go inside to him early and often. If Cunnigham is able to score consistently then Duke’s stifling man to man pressure will be held at bay. The Blue Devils are a decidedly less effective team when they are converting turnovers into easy buckets and transition three pointers.
The depth of Villanova should ultimately decide this game. When you have a closely contested and physical match up like the one I’m anticipating, the team that has the most playmakers usually wins. I think that team is Villanova.
Syracuse Orange vs. Oklahoma Sooners
On paper, the match up to watch is Player of the Year candidate Blake Griffin going up against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. While I do believe Griffin has a battle on his hands, I don’t believe that is what’s going to decide this game.
Oklahoma relies on guards in Austin Johnson, Willie Warren and Tony Crocker to control tempo, limit turnovers and capitalize on the opportunities that Griffin offers them. How well are they going to decipher the zone? How are they going to deal with Andy Rautins, Eric Devendorf and, most importantly, Jonny Flynn on the defensive end? When Syracuse’s guards play well this team is very hard to beat because they also facilitate as well as score the basketball. I just don’t see Blake Griffin getting 30 and 15 in this game. Can Oklahoma’s backcourt come up big? If they don’t then the Sooner’s season ends here.
Missouri Tigers vs. Memphis Tigers
This is going to be a surefire thriller. Expect a track meet in sneakers. Both teams love to push tempo on offense and play good pressure defense. The guard play, quality depth, and decisive intangibles of both teams will be gravely tested. Let’s take a look at those particular entities.
When you pressure in the college game, especially full or 3/4 court the object is to speed the game up. This challenges the decision making of the opposing teams ball-handlers and and also take precious time off of the shot clock. Every play then becomes a crucial one. Good guards limit turnovers and keep the offense running smoothly, even when pressured. That will be key during this contest. Quality depth will be imperative in this game because as the coaches start to look down their bench, they will not want a let down in execution, poise or performance. The 7th and 8th man will be just as important in this game as the first five. When we mention intangibles we’re talking about things like foul trouble and mental toughness.
Can the guards of both teams pressure consistently without fouling? Can the front court players challenge shots without sending the opponent to the free throw line? Which team will be able to play as precisely in minute 35 as they did in minute 5? Which team will have an offensive rebounding edge? Who will take charges and force jump balls?