Did you miss the Madness? Have no fear, the Sweet 16 is finally here.
After the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament got off to a slow start last week, it could be a wild Thursday night. The action gets started with the only region in which chalk prevailed and the top four seeds advanced. We’ll also get to see the only region in which the No. 1 seed has already been eliminated. Before we go any further, though, here’s a look at the complete schedule (all times EDT):
No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 2 Miami, 7:15 (CBS)
No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Indiana, 9:45 (CBS)
No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 2 Ohio State, 7:47 (TBS)
No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 9 Wichita State, 10:17 (TBS)
Must See Games
No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Given all the upsets in the West region, many have already penciled the Buckeyes into the Final Four. But it’s easy to forget Arizona has yet to lose against a team outside the Pac-12 this season and won with ease last weekend. The individual matchups should be fascinating to watch as Arizona’s Mark Lyons will go against Ohio State defensive menace Aaron Craft and Wildcats forward Solomon Hill faces off with Buckeyes leading scorer DeShaun Thomas. Arizona could have a rebounding advantage with its deep front court, but Ohio State sophomore LaQuinton Ross has emerged as a third option behind Craft and Thomas.
No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Indiana
Two of college basketball’s heavyweights facing one another could turn the nightcap at Verizon Center into the best game of the NCAA tournament to date. Indiana Coach Tom Crean admits his squad hasn’t dealt with a team that features big guards like Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair and exclusively plays a 2-3 zone. But the Orange haven’t faced a team armed with a plethora of outside shooters and an NBA draft pick inside (Cody Zeller). Pace – Syracuse ranks 10th out of the 16 teams remaining in offensive efficiency and would prefer to keep the high-scoring Hoosiers out of transition – could be the deciding factor in this matchup of two elite programs.
No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 9 Wichita State
It might not be fair to call this an upset, considering both teams have authored intriguing Cinderella stories. But at least one of these schools will end Thursday night one game away from the Final Four. La Salle is trying to pull off the same feat VCU did two years ago and advance to the regional final after being forced to win a play-in game just to make the field of 64. The Explorers have a dynamic backcourt led by Ramon Galloway and Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland, but the potential return of big man Steve Zack from a foot sprain could be a wild card after Wichita State held its own inside against Gonzaga. La Salle also has Brother Ed on its side.
Matchup to watch: Marquette’s Davante Gardner vs. Miami’s Julian Gamble
The focus will be on Miami point guard Shane Larkin and Marquette’s Vander Blue, but the opening game at Verizon Center could be won on the offensive glass. In that regard, Coach Buzz Williams received some encouraging news when the Hurricanes announced that center Reggie Johnson didn’t make the trip to Washington after undergoing minor knee surgery this week. Miami Coach Jim Larranaga considers Johnson to be the Hurricanes’ best rebounder, although Gamble wasn’t just a prolific photo bomber this year. He started 27 games. Can the burly Gardner, who averages 11.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, take advantage?
Theme of the night: Reunited, and (sometimes) it feels so good
Larranaga returns to Verizon Center, the sight of his greatest triumph at George Mason; Arizona’s Sean Miller faces off against his close friend and former colleague at Miami (Ohio), Buckeyes Coach Thad Matta; Indiana star Victor Oladipo (DeMatha) comes home for a game in Washington, his first in the area since the 2010 City title game; Syracuse and Indiana play in an NCAA tournament game for the first time since Keith Smart’s dramatic shot gave the Hoosiers a national title over the Orange in 1987.
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