One X-Factor Player for Every Men's Sweet 16 Team

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West Region

Gonzaga: Joel Ayayi

Ayayi has been Gonzaga’s unsung hero all season, but his versatility may be particularly pivotal against Creighton and their trio of 6'5" starters: Denzel Mahoney, Damien Jefferson and Mitch Ballock. The Zags also play smaller lineups, and how they approach direct matchups will be a key to the game. Ayayi’s rebounding and non-stop cutting will be a factor, as usual.

Creighton: Christian Bishop

For the Bluejays to have any chance at slowing down Gonzaga, the 6'7" Bishop will have to find a way to keep Drew Timme off the glass. Bishop posted double-doubles in Creighton’s wins over Ohio and UC Santa Barbara, and if he can win his matchup, things may at least get interesting.

USC: Isaiah Mobley

I know what you’re thinking here, but it’s actually the other Mobley who may have more to say about USC’s fate. Evan is a reliable force, but older brother Isaiah has been on a roll, hitting four threes against Kansas to make it 9-of-11 from distance in his last four games. The Trojans need everyone to make jumpers to maximize their odds here, and he’s the big swing factor.

Oregon: Will Richardson

Richardson appears to have rediscovered himself a bit in March and was a big factor in the Ducks’ upset of Iowa, forcing the Hawkeyes to account for him in the backcourt and playing all 40 minutes. As the only true point guard on Oregon’s roster, it’s on him to keep pressure off of Chris Duarte and make plays for everyone else.

East Region

Michigan: Eli Brooks

Brooks gets little fanfare, but he’s had an excellent senior year and has made multiple threes in his last four games, enabling Michigan to keep pace with LSU and covering for the absence of Isaiah Livers. Florida State is going to pack the paint and force the Wolverines to make jumpers. Brooks should have opportunities to change that game.

Florida State: Balsa Koprivica

Someone is going to have to deal with Hunter Dickinson, and the 7'1" Koprivica will likely be the primary body on him, with enough length to harangue Michigan’s large freshman into mistakes. Koprivica, of course, needs to stay out of foul trouble and rebound. He was a non-factor in the Colorado win, but FSU can’t really afford for him to no-show this time.

UCLA: Tyger Campbell

Campbell has done a good job managing UCLA’s wins and limiting his turnovers over the course of three games; Alabama’s defense is a totally different challenge. The Tide don’t give up anything easy and will push the pace as much as possible—per KenPom data, their average possession (14.2 seconds) is more than four seconds shorter than the Bruins’—and it will fall to Campbell to keep composure and make the correct decisions.

Alabama: Jahvon Quinerly

The Quin-aissance was full go against Maryland, as the former blue-chip recruit racked up 11 assists in 29 minutes off the bench. Guard play has been the major question for Alabama all season, and when it’s good, the Tide can beat anybody. They have shooters and athletes, but Quinerly is their only creative handler. If he keeps this up, the Final Four looks more and more reachable.

South Region

Baylor: Matthew Mayer

Baylor’s minutes distribution at forward has been ticking more and more in Mayer’s direction, with Mark Vital’s offensive limitations occasionally leading to clogged driving lanes. Mayer poured in 17 huge points against Wisconsin, and while his decision-making can be a tad wild at times, the Bears need to ride it out to maximize their potential. Villanova has no obvious matchup for him.

Villanova: Bryan Antoine

One of the more interesting subplots stemming from Collin Gillespie’s season-ending injury is that Jay Wright has quietly unearthed Antoine, a prized recruit who has struggled to get any type of playing time in his two years at Villanova. He logged 19 and 23 minutes, respectively, against Winthrop and North Texas, chipping in some effective scoring off the bench. Baylor has a lot more firepower in this matchup, and the Wildcats will need some surprise contributions to have a chance.

Arkansas: Davonte Davis

Davis has gone from little-known recruit to pivotal contributor over the course of his freshman year, and while he’s a complete wild card on a given day, he’s given Arkansas a lot more good than bad so far in the tournament. He played 37 minutes against Texas Tech and has essentially replaced Desi Sills in the rotation. An electric athlete who’s unafraid to shoot and a blur up and down the floor, Davis should spend some time defending Max Abmas. When he’s on, he raises his team’s ceiling in a big way.

Oral Roberts: Carlos Jurgens

You know about Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor by now, but Jurgens is ORU’s third-most pivotal player, rarely ever subbing out of the game and typically defending the opponent’s best scorer. The Estonian-born Jurgens will have his hands full trailing freshman sharpshooter Moses Moody. If he’s successful, ORU may have a shot in what promises to be a physical, high-scoring game.

Midwest Region

Loyola Chicago: Lucas Williamson

Williamson spent most of the season as an efficient, high-minute but lower-volume role player for the Ramblers. Naturally, he’s stepped up, totaling 35 points in two tournament wins. Loyola is tough and organized defensively, but doesn’t feature a ton of three-point shooting. Williamson has to keep knocking them down for this team to perform close to its offensive ceiling.

Oregon State: Roman Silva

The 7'1" Silva rarely fills up the scoring column, but his size will be the key to bottling up Loyola’s Cam Krutwig. Silva was rock solid defensively in wins over Tennessee and Oklahoma State. Oregon State’s interior play will be key to keeping the game close.

Syracuse: Quincy Guerrier

The burly Canadian forward likes to float around the perimeter, but he’s also Syracuse’s biggest body, and will have to do more dirty work than usual inside against Houston’s front line. He blocked five shots against West Virginia, so there’s precedent here. But he’ll have his hands full with Justin Gorham.

Houston: Marcus Sasser

It sounds like DeJon Jarreau will play for the Cougars, but his health has been subpar. Someone besides Quentin Grimes is going to need to hit shots against the zone, and if Jarreau isn’t at his best, it’s going to fall to Sasser, who shot 32% on high volume from three this season and can be a streaky performer. He’ll need to be at his best to quarterback another win.

Oregon State center Roman Silva

Oregon State center Roman Silva


ICYMI

Porter Moser built a culture cocoon and winning program at Loyola Chicago. Could he do it with Indiana if the Hoosiers come calling? (By Pat Forde)

Why each team in the East Region will—and won't—make the Final Four. (By Kevin Sweeney)

Why each team in the South Region will—and won't—make the Final Four. (By Molly Geary)

Alabama's Juwan Gary plays every game in honor of his late teammate, who collapsed during a game and died in 2018. (By Jason Jordan)

Pick 'Em: Sweet 16

SI's Molly Geary makes picks for two of Saturday's Sweet 16 women's games:

No. 4 Indiana over No. 1 NC State: The Wolfpack could be without injured starter Kayla Jones again, and they've struggled to put away teams so far. This time, the Hoosiers take advantage.

No. 2 Texas A&M over No. 3 Arizona: The Aggies are the embodiment of "survive-and-advance" this far, but the momentum of Jordan Nixon's buzzer beater carries over in this one.

SI's Jeremy Woo makes picks for two of Saturday's Sweet 16 men's games:

No. 3 Arkansas over No. 15 Oral Roberts: The two teams already met in December (Arkansas won by 11), and the Razorbacks won’t be caught sleeping. Their physical, defensive-minded group poses a much different test for ORU than Ohio State and Florida.

No. 2 Houston over No. 11 Syracuse: The Cougars are an elite offensive rebounding team, and should have success winning the paint and converting second chances against Syracuse’s zone and thin front line.

Crystal Ball

Arkansas-ORU is the highest-scoring Sweet 16 game by a mile. Loyola-Oregon State, on the other hand, is the lowest.

At the Buzzer

Sister Jean remains a treasure.