Tonight we tip off the Sweet Sixteen with games from the East Region in Washington, DC, and the West Region in Los Angeles, CA. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.
#2 Miami vs. #3 Marquette — East Regional Semifinal (at Washington, D.C.) — 7:15 PM ET on CBS.
Two coaches and teams that have significantly overachieved this season collide in tonight’s first regional semifinal game in our nation’s capital. Marquette has been the quintessential “survive and advance” team through its two games of this NCAA Tournament having gotten by Davidson and Butler in thrilling fashion. In this match-up, the Golden Eagles will have to overcome some notable disadvantages coming in to it. Even though Reggie Johnson will not play for Miami, he hasn’t been playing all that well of late so his loss isn’t a huge hit for the Hurricanes. Marquette is a team that thrives off of dribble penetration and offensive rebounding so Jim Larranaga’s game plan will no doubt focus on that. Buzz Williams doesn’t have the three point shooters needed to open up his offense, one that is highly dependent on Vander Blue and others creating and getting into the paint. If Miami defends the paint well, can keep Marquette off the free throw line for the most part and win the turnover battle (Marquette averages 14 per game and Miami is #18 in offensive turnover percentage) it should win the game. However, it’s not always so simple. In addition to the dynamic Blue, Jamil Wilson could be a very difficult match-up for Miami. Wilson is a bouncy 6’7 player who can create off the bounce and isn’t afraid of contact around the rim. He could be Marquette’s most important player in deciding the outcome of this one. The intangibles in this game strongly favor the Golden Eagles. It hasn’t just been in this tournament but Marquette has a ton of experience playing in and winning close games over the last few seasons. This team knows how to win and make plays in big moments down the stretch and that becomes such a valuable asset in the NCAA Tournament. We think Miami’s game against Illinois, where the Hurricanes were pushed a bit, was a good thing but it could be only a matter of time as the Hurricanes lack of tournament experience catches up to them. This may be the game as the pressure and scrutiny ramps up, especially against a team with so much experience in one or two possession games. Although this appears to be a good match-up for Miami on paper, there’s a reason why they play the games. The Golden Eagles may come away with another squeaker of a win.
The RTC Certified Pick: Marquette.
#2 Ohio State vs. #6 Arizona – West Regional Semifinal (at Los Angeles, CA) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS
The Thad Matta/Sean Miller backstory gives this matchup plenty of pizzazz, but even without that part of the story, this is quite a battle. You can just run down this game matchup by matchup and find plenty of compelling storylines. At point guard, the Mark Lyons vs. Aaron Craft face-off alone makes this a must-watch game, with Craft one of the nation’s most disruptive perimeter defenders and Lyons one of the most dangerous offensive players off the bounce. While Lyons has the reputation of a guy who is a killer in the clutch, he’ll need to play within himself against Craft and make sure not to force too much against his pressure. Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, Lyons is no slouch on defense himself and Craft an improving, but still somewhat limited scorer. You could do worse that spending the entire 40 minutes of action just watching those two go at it. Elsewhere, the next biggest potential matchup is DeShaun Thomas and Solomon Hill. Thomas is the Buckeyes lone pure scoring threat and Hill will certainly be guarding him for much of the game. Thomas has got a pretty complete offensive game, with range from three, a solid pull-up game off the bounce, some post-up ability and the ability to get on the offensive glass. But, luckily for Arizona, Hill’s defensive versatility can match Thomas’ game, as he’s as comfortable guarding in the post as he is away from the hoop. On the other end of the court, Thomas’ defensive game has improved, but he’s still a long ways from a defensive stopper, although depending on the matchups on the court, he might not be the guy tasked with checking Hill. Arizona doesn’t necessarily need Hill to outscore Thomas in this matchup, but if he can take him out of his comfort zone, OSU will have to count on other less polished scorers to have big games. And there are other great matchups all across the court. Nick Johnson is Arizona’s best perimeter defender and he could take a crack at anyone from Craft to Lenzelle Smith to Shannon Scott, even to Thomas for a stretch if needed. In the paint, Arizona’s three freshman bigs have been playing well of late, but they’ve got big physical veteran Bucks ready to bang with them all day long. And then there are X-factors like Kevin Parrom and LaQuinton Ross. Parrom, a senior, has turned into an excellent third-scorer for the Wildcats, while Ross is starting to live up to the high expectations he earned back in high school. All over the rosters there are strength-on-strength battles, leading me to believe that when we come out of the final media timeout, we’ll be in a dead heat. In that situation, give me the team most capable of putting the ball in the net in a variety of ways. And in this case, that is the Wildcats, with Lyons, Hill, Parrom and even Johnson and Grant Jerrett all capable of filling it up.
The RTC Certified Pick: Arizona