NCAA tournament viewing guide: Thursday's Sweet 16 matchups
With all the games we had last week, the last few days have felt like a slow crawl. Sure we have the NIT to keep us from missing college basketball completely, and the NBA is a nice diversion; but ever since the final buzzer sounded on Sunday, it's been a dash to get to Thursday for more NCAA tournament play
This isn't the full day of eyes peeled open, ordering food in so you don't miss a minute or posting up at your favorite table (you know the one, it has easy access for six TVs at once and is right on your server's route to get to the rest of his or her tables). Instead it's a nightly stretch, with games staggered just far enough apart that you still feel the rush.
The Sweet 16 is here. Finally.
How to watch: 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
What to watch for: A double-digit seed is guaranteed to go to the Elite Eight because of the efforts of Dayton and Stanford, and for that we're thankful. What Stanford showed against Kansas was precisely what made people so frustrated with the Cardinal in the first place. That talent was there all year, and yet Johnny Dawkins' team only played to that level a handful of times during the regular season (like against UConn, Oregon or the second meeting against UCLA).
For Stanford to be successful against a surging Dayton team, it will have to focus on establishing things inside early. The Cardinal have a definite height advantage (they rank sixth in average height vs. the Flyers' ranking of 145), so this would be a good game for big men Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic to take over. Dayton doesn't have quick possessions in the half court set, but it has been able to get opportunities in transition in the NCAA tournament, leading to sizable momentum swings against bigger and stronger teams thus far. The Flyers will have to follow that script and continue to get big shots from guys like Vee Sanford, Dyshawn Pierre and Jordan Sibert if they want to beat the Cardinal on Thursday.
How to watch: 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: Baylor already took down two feel-good stories in the tournament in Nebraska and Creighton, and the Bears are coming for Bo Ryan and his efficiently methodical freight train. What makes Baylor so tough on both ends of the floor is the sheer length they run at you. They have a seemingly endless amount of guys with huge wing spans and, when the zone is playing patiently and staying home instead of collapsing on a particular shooter or in the lane, it's hard to pass the ball around and get a good shot. Creighton learned that the hard way, as Baylor looked like it was playing a different game than the 'Jays during its 30-point rout in the third round.
That game plan against Creighton is a good one to follow, but Wisconsin likely won't be as bothered as the Bluejays were. The Badgers don't seem to let anyone tell them what to do or how to run their offense. They will take every second of the shot clock if they have to, and they'll get a good look. If they are hitting early, Baylor could be in trouble.
South Region: No. 4 UCLA (28-8, 12-6 in Pac-12) vs. No. 1 Florida (34-2, 18-0 in SEC)
How to watch: 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
What to watch for: It wasn't guaranteed when the brackets came out that this game would happen, but compared to the alternatives, I'm sure glad it worked out that way. Florida plays the definition of team ball. When coaches and athletic directors talk about culture and four-year players and building a strong foundation, it's almost like they're constantly subtweeting Billy Donovan, who has built a behemoth in Gainesville. The Gators, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, have seniors everywhere and a couple dangerous sophomores. This game will be experience vs. sheer talent, as UCLA trots out more future NBA players.
Now that Steve Alford has gotten himself out of the first weekend, the pressure could finally be off the Bruins' head coach. His guys certainly played loose in Sunday's big win over Stephen F. Austin. Florida is one of the best-coached and most-balanced teams left, and we're likely to see a well-played game. Kenpom.com gives the Gators a 71 percent chance to take this one.
West Region: No. 4 San Diego State (31-4, 16-2 in Mountain West) vs. No. 1 Arizona (32-4, 15-3 in Pac-12)
How to watch: 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
What to watch for: If you like defense, then this game is for you. Arizona's defense ranks No. 1 in efficiency according to kenpom.com, while San Diego State's ranks seventh. The Wildcats have the edge on offense as well. The Aztecs haven't looked sharp offensively in their two tournament wins, and it almost cost them against New Mexico State in the round of 64.
SDSU will rely on its defense to help propel transition points on the other end. When Arizona's defense gets set in the half court, teams won't get many easy looks. The Wildcats can be maddeningly frustrating for opponents and force teams to take shots they really don't want to take. This shouldn't be a high-scoring affair, but more of a chess match, and the team which is able to make more sustained runs should be able to control the game throughout. Chances are that team will be Arizona, which has played at an elite level for most of the season.
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