NCAA tournament 2014: A Sweet 16 viewer’s guide to Thursday’s games

Welcome to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, where Thursday and Friday are Sweet, Saturday and Sunday are Elite and not everything else rhymes as nicely, unless the games happened to be held in Crete, which they unfortunately are not.

In fact, the four regional pods are taking place in Memphis (South), Anaheim (West), New York City (East) and Indianapolis (Midwest), with four matchups tabbed for Thursday night. Here’s what to expect from the action:

South: No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 10 Stanford in Memphis, 7:15 p.m. (CBS)

How they got here: The darlings of the NCAA tournament thus far, Dayton has scored two upsets by a combined three points, squeaking past both No. 6 Ohio State (60-59) and No. 3 Syracuse (55-53), surviving botched buzzer-beaters by the opposition on both games. Stanford, meanwhile, has endured a similarly heart-thumping path, beating No. 7 New Mexico by five points and upsetting No. 2 Kansas by three points on Sunday to punch its ticket to Memphis.

The big stories: In a bottom-half of a South Region bracket where Syracuse, Ohio State and Kansas all resided, raise your hand if you picked a double-digit seed to reach the Elite Eight and two double-digit seeds to reach the Sweet 16. Forget that these are the two lowest-ranked teams remaining in the NCAA tournament according to analyst Ken Pomeroy. Given the routes both teams took to reach FedEx Forum, it’s clear they belong.

And that’s not to ignore the situations on the sidelines. Both coaches, Dayton’s Archie Miller and Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, have reached the Sweet 16 in their first NCAA tournaments at their first college head coaching jobs. They both played in the ACC, Miller at North Carolina State and Dawkins at Duke. Miller, for his part, has blossomed into the latest coaching star of March Madness, a la Florida Gulf Coast’s Andy Enfield last season, while Dawkins likely needed an appearance in the tournament to save his job after five seasons missing out.

Players to watch: For the Cardinal, 6-foot-10 senior big man Dwight Powell bounced back from a poor effort against New Mexico to hang an efficient 15 points and seven rebounds on the Jayhawks, and has developed into an outside NBA prospect. For Dayton, watch senior guard Devin Olivier, one of the top 100 most efficient offensive players in Division I basketball who has averaged nine points, seven rebounds, 2.5 assists and a half-turnover per game during the NCAA tournament.

West: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 2 Wisconsin in Anaheim, 7:47 p.m. (TBS)

How they got here: The Bears hammered Nebraska and Coach Tim Miles in the opening round then ended the storied college career of Creigton’s Doug McDermott with a 30-point rout on Sunday in San Antonio. The reigning National Invitation Tournament champions have lost just once in their past nine games and, since the Big 12 tournament began, their average margin of victory is 14.8 points.

The Badgers, meanwhile, cake-walked past American in the first round by 40 points and, when forced to play an up-tempo style against Oregon, responded with an 85-77 victory. Like Baylor, they shook off a midseason lull and are 7-2 in their last nine games away from home, either on the road or at a neutral site.

The big stories: A swarming 1-3-1 Bears zone frustrated McDermott into 15 points, nearly 12 less than his season average, so Wisconsin will need guard Ben Brust, the program’s all-time three-point leader, to step up. That said, the Badgers are the fourth-most efficient offense in the nation, per Pomeroy, so Coach Bo Ryan should have things figured out.

On a macro level, Wisconsin hasn’t reached the Elite Eight since 2005, while the Bears made it there during their past two NCAA tournament seasons, in 2012 and 2010.

Players to watch: Center Isaiah Austin, standing at 7-1, commands most of the attention, but Baylor’s interior also features reserve sophomore Rico Gathers, who ranks fourth nationally with a 17.7 percent offensive rebounding rate. As a team, the Bears thrive on corralling their own misses, rebounding more than 40 percent of their errant shots, but the Badgers are 11th in defensive rebounding percentage. This one could come down to a battle of the boards, and Gathers has proven himself to be one of college basketball’s best.

Everyone loves a hot-shooting big man, so for Wisconsin take a look at Frank Kaminsky. His outside numbers haven’t been strong during the NCAA tournament (1 for 8 from three over two games) but he was 7 for 10 inside the arc against Oregon, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds.

South: No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 1 Florida in Memphis, 9:45 p.m. (CBS)

How they got here: The Bruins halted upset-minded Stephen F. Austin in the second round, two days after taking care of business against Tulsa. Florida survived an early upset scare against No. 16 Albany, as some top seeds are wont to do, but handled No. 9 Pittsburgh by 16 points in Orlando. As the No. 1 overall seed, the Gators haven’t lost since Dec. 2, while UCLA has won five straight.

The big stories: Can Florida, one of the favorites in March Madness, continue its impressive run after allowing only 100 total points over the opening weekend? Can UCLA’s offense, containing a near-impossible matchup in Kyle Anderson, keep pace to send first-year Coach Steve Alford to his first Elite Eight after reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008?

Players to watch: On a roster with three star seniors, Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin stands out for his late-game composure, and he has scored in double digits in six straight games, including 21 points against Pittsburgh. For UCLA, watch Anderson, a sophomore forward who ranks in the top 30 nationally in both defensive rebounding percentage and assist rate, and dropped an incredible 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists on Arizona in the Pacfici-12 title game.

West: No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Arizona in Anaheim, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

How they got here: Speaking of Arizona, the Wildcats overcame a shaky start to beat Weber State in the first round then destroyed Gonzaga, 84-61, on Sunday in San Diego. Meanwhile, vacated from their home town in favor of the region’s top seed, San Diego State squeaked past New Mexico State by four points then hammered North Dakota State, 63-44, but haven’t faced a single-digit seed in this NCAA tournament.

The big stories: Pomeroy’s top-ranked team in defensive efficiency, Arizona can reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2011 and, perhaps if Dayton wins, put the pair of brothers one step closer toward meeting in the national title game (a long shot, at best, but it would be cool). The Aztecs sit on the opposite side of the coin, having never advanced past the Sweet 16 since the bracket expanded in 1985.

Players to watch: High-flyer Aaron Gordon and all-American Nick Johnson are the headline grabbers, but Arizona’s success this weekend might hinge on freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He leads the team with 1.1 blocks per game and has turned it on during the NCAA tournament, scoring 31 points and missing only two field goals.

San Diego State’s Xavier Thames is one of the most elite scorers left in the field, averaging 20.5 points per game since an inexplicable midseason lull that saw his usage rate plummet. He compensated from a tough shooting effort against New Mexico State (1 for 7 from three-point range) by making 10 of 12 free throws, and one-upped that with 30 points on 9-of-19 shooting against North Dakota State.

More NCAA tournament news

Ritchie McKay is ‘the other head coach’ for Virginia

NCAA women: Maryland defeats Texas to reach Sweet 16

Virginia upends Memphis, reaches round of 16

Early Lead: Wildcats end Shockers’ run

Stanford upsets Kansas to reach Sweet 16

Iowa State defeats North Carolina on last-second shot

Tennessee ends Mercer’s surprising run

Chad: March Madness? No thanks.

Bog: When D.C. public television showed college basketball

NCAA tournament bracket and historical database

Play The Bracket Challenge round-by-round

Photos: The best of the tournament | 68 teams, 68 facts

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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