Just eight more games until this year’s Sweet 16 is set. While there’s nothing quite like the opening weekend of the dance, next week is when things get real. Every team still playing will be halfway to the Final Four, with Indianapolis easily in sight. Given that chalk dominated the action on Friday, the college basketball viewing public will be treated to some of the best Round of 32 matchups in recent history. How does Kansas-Wichita State sound to you? Virginia-Michigan State? Maryland-West Virginia? Yeah, Sunday should be an appropriately great day to wrap up the first weekend of the 2015 NCAA tournament.
12:10 p.m. ET on CBS
East Regional: No. 2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 in ACC) vs. No. 7 Michigan State (24-11, 12-6 in Big Ten)
These two programs met in the Sweet 16 a year ago, with the Spartans springing an upset on the Cavaliers, who were the top-seeded team in the East region. Virginia had to work a little harder than expected to knock off Belmont in the Round of 64 on Friday, but they ultimately pulled away behind 22 points from Malcolm Brogdon and 16 from Anthony Gill. Each passing day is another step toward full health for Justin Anderson, and he looked a whole lot more comfortable on Friday than he did during the ACC tournament. Virginia dares offenses to beat them with threes, and Michigan State is capable of doing that with Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. At the same time, a team really needs to shoot the lights out to counteract Virginia’s pack-line defense. As an example, Notre Dame went 10-for-24 from behind the arc in their only game against Virginia during the regular season. That was two percentage points better than their 17th-ranked season-long three-point percentage, and they still scored just 52 points against the Cavaliers’ stifling defense.
If the Spartans are going to upset Virginia for the second year in a row, they’ll need to either have one of their best shooting days of the season, get a ton out of Branden Dawson inside, shut down the Brogdon-Gill-Anderson trio, or some combination thereof.
This matchup represents the greatest clash of styles thus far in the tournament. Duke features the No. 2 offense in the country by adjusted efficiency, while San Diego State ranks fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils have four dynamic scorers, each of whom is capable of leading the team in scoring on any given day. The Aztecs can really struggle to put points on the board, especially if Winston Sheppard or Aqeel Quinn is struggling. Whichever is able to better play its game is going to move on to the Sweet 16.
Duke is justifiably the big favorite here, but San Diego State matches up well. They have the bodies to throw at Jahlil Okafor in the post, and the length and athleticism to bother Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow on the perimeter. There aren’t many teams that have enough individual defenders to handle the Blue Devils, as well as the sort of team defense necessary to counteract what they do so well offensively, but San Diego State is one of those teams. This isn’t going to be a cakewalk for Duke.
5:15 p.m. ET on CBS
Midwest Region: No. 2 Kansas (27-8, 13-5 in Big 12) vs. No. 7 Wichita State (29-4, 17-1 in Missouri Valley)
This is one of those happy coincidences that the Selection Committee insists is just the result of its standard bracketing procedure. However it came about, this promises to be one of the better games of the first couple rounds, both for the on-court product and the storyline. It wouldn’t be exactly fair to call these teams in-state rivals, because they never play each other. The Jayhawks and Shockers haven’t met since 1993, and those on the latter side will say its because the big bad boys from Lawrence refuse to schedule them. There’s no avoiding the Shockers now.
Kansas doesn’t attempt a ton of threes, but it is 32nd in the country in three-point percentage. Wichita State, meanwhile, can struggle guarding the triple, but has one of the better interior defenses that the Jayhawks will have seen to date. Don’t be surprised if Frank Mason and Kelly Oubre take more attempts than usual from beyond the arc, or if sharpshooter Brannen Greene gets additional minutes.
For Wichita State, Fred VanVleet had a monster game against Indiana in the Round of 64, but the Shockers absolutely need more out of Ron Baker to beat Kansas. The junior had 15 points, but nine of those came from the free-throw line. He was just 3-for-13 from the floor. This game should be great theater, but only one team from the Sunflower State will move on to the Sweet 16.
The Selection Committee may have underseeded the Flyers, but it more than paid them back with their path for their first few games. After getting to start out in their home gym in the First Four, the Flyers got a spot in Columbus, resulting in a pair of virtual home games. They used it to their advantage against Providence in the Round of 64, and it will undoubtedly be a factor against Oklahoma on Sunday.
That’s not to say that Dayton can’t win this game on merit. The Flyers have three players—Dyshawn Pierre, Kendall Pollard and Jordan Sibert—they can run at Sooners star Buddy Hield all game long. When Hield, the Big 12 player of the year, struggles to score, Oklahoma typically struggles to win. Luckily for the Sooners, their only defensive weakness—cleaning up the glass—is not a strength Dayton. Given its lack of size, Oklahoma's TaShawn Thomas and Ryan Spangler could present matchup problems.
Both of these teams can score, with the Bulldogs ranking sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency and the Hawkeyes 28th. Gonzaga is used to being the biggest team in every game it plays, but it won’t have that same advantage on Sunday. Iowa's rotation features four players—Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff, Gabe Olaseni and Adam Woodbury—who are 6’9” or taller. That means they can give sharpshooting wing Kyle Wiltjer plenty of different defensive looks all game. While those Hawkeyes will also have their hands full with Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis in the paint, stopping Wiltjer is the key to stopping Gonzaga.
Similarly, the Bulldogs will have to find a way to slow down Aaron White. Davidson couldn’t do so on Friday, and White burned the Wildcats for 26 points as Iowa earned one of the most impressive victories from the Round of 64. But while Gonzaga can fall back on Kevin Pangos, Karnowski and Gary Bell if and when Wiltjer struggles. the Hawkeyes don't have nearly as strong a supporting cast.
These programs met at the exact same stage of the tournament last year, with the Badgers mounting a huge second-half run to come away with the victory. This Ducks team looks different than last year’s version, but the Badgers have almost an identical cast of characters that is only better than it was a year ago.
The Wisconsin offense presents the average Oregon defense with a terrible matchup. The Badgers are tops in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, while Oregon is 130th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The tallest players on Oregon, Dwayne Benjamin and Jordan Bell, are 6’7”. No team needs an added degree of difficulty when trying to guard Wisconsin's 7-foot star Frank Kaminsky, who can score inside and out, but Oregon has one. Given the Ducks’ deficiencies on defense, it’s hard to imagine them slowing the Badgers down very much. Instead, they’re going to have to score with them to keep up.
That’s something they may be able to do. When Wisconsin lost at Maryland in February, it really struggled guarding Dez Wells and Melo Trimble, especially in ball-screen situations. Joseph Young can give Wisconsin problems in exactly the same way. If he does, this game could be closer than you might expect.
8:40 p.m. ET on TNT
Midwest Regional: No. 4 Maryland (28-6, 14-4 in Big Ten) vs. No. 5 West Virginia (24-9, 11-7 in Big 12)
West Virginia lives and dies with its full-court pressure. Maryland’s nexus is in the backcourt with Melo Trimble and Dez Wells. Whoever wins that head-to-head matchup is going to the Sweet 16.
Of course, there are ways each team can support its respective strengths. Maryland has to get more out of Jake Layman than it did in its Round of 64 win over Valparaiso. Layman attempted just one shot and had a paltry four points, all on free throws. When he steps up alongside Trimble and Wells as a competent third scorer, the Terrapins boast one of the better offenses in the country. His contributions are absolutely vital against a defense like West Virginia’s. With Trimble and Wells breaking the press, a stretch four like Layman can be dangerous in transition, both as a cutter to the rim and a spot-up shooter. If he plays well—as in, scores closer to his season average of 12.6 points—he can take some of the pressure off the backcourt.
The Mountaineers, on the other hand, can take advantage of their significant rebounding edge. Maryland is only an average defensive rebounding team, and its offensive-rebounding efforts are essentially non-existent. Even when Juwan Staten is on, West Virginia isn’t the best shooting team, so it will need second-chance points, and Maryland is vulnerable to a team like the Mountaineers that can own the boards. That makes Devin Williams, who averages 8.2 rebounds per game, a key player in this one for West Virginia.
9:40 p.m. ET on TBS
East Regional: No. 4 Louisville (25-8, 12-6 in ACC) vs. No. 5 Northern Iowa (31-3, 16-2 in Missouri Valley)
The Panthers are one of the most efficient offenses in the country, thanks in large part to the efforts of Seth Tuttle. This game will swing on the manner in which Louisville defends Tuttle, and just how successful it is in its chosen course.
The Cardinals likely have a few options. We know everything will come from that base 2-3 zone look. However, we also know that Louisville’s version isn't a traditional 2-3 like the one deployed by Syracuse. Most frequently, Louisville is in a matchup zone, which begins as a 2-3 look but quickly morphs into a man-based one on the first pass. Sometimes they do stay in a traditional 2-3. Sometimes they just come right out in man. We know the Cardinals are going to change it up all game. The question is, how do they tailor that to stop Tuttle, knowing he has adept three-point shooters around him?
Expect Wayne Blackshear to get the most face time with Tuttle. Montrezl Harrell is too important on the baseline in the 2-3 to worry about spending time with Tuttle on the perimeter. Louisivlle will switch up looks more often than it usually does. This is always about confusing the offense, but that effort will be even more important with a player who presents the matchup issue that Tuttle does.