Wolstat's Sweet 16 preview

Marquette University's Junior Cadougan of Toronto reacts after making his shot against Murray State...

Marquette University's Junior Cadougan of Toronto reacts after making his shot against Murray State University during their NCCA Tournament game last week. (REUTERS)

Ryan Wolstat, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:32 PM ET

From the initial field of 68 teams, just 16 remain standing. After Thursday and Friday’s games, we’ll be down to the Elite 8 and by Sunday evening, the four participants heading to New Orleans will be known.

Here’s a look at how the Sweet 16 breaks down:

THURSDAY

No. 4 Wisconsin (26-9) vs. No. 1 Syracuse (33-2) AT BOSTON

SKINNY: Could be the most boring Sweet 16 game of the year. Could be a defensive struggle.

Syracuse wins if:

Rakeem Christmas repeats his fine fill-in performance in place of Fab Melo; Kris Joseph steps up with his biggest game of the year: Wisconsin struggles from three; Badgers are forced into uncharacteristic turnovers; Syracuse uses its athletic advantage.

Wisconsin wins if:

They nail all kinds of treys to beat the zone; if they force the Orange into turnovers; if their defence continues to excel and keeps Syracuse well under its season average for points; Jordan Taylor goes off.

Wolstat’s pick: It will be a tight one and Wisconsin will struggle to do much offensively, but the betting here is the absence of Fab Melo catches up with Syracuse and the Badgers catch fire enough from three to pull off the upset.

No. 4 Louisville (28-9) vs. No. 1 Michigan State (29-7) AT PHOENIX

SKINNY: The teams are ranked second and third in defensive efficiency in Division I so don’t expect thrilling offence. Louisville is rolling with five straight wins.

Louisville wins if:

They force Draymond Green into a turnover-prone off-night; they put the pressure on the Spartans, who struggled against aggressive defenders in a four-point win over Saint Louis; they get their rebound game back on track. New Mexico beat them by 11 on the glass.

Michigan State wins if:

Green continues to excel, he’s had a triple-double and close to another one so far; they handle Louisville’s daunting press; they use their size, strength and athletic advantages.

Wolstat’s pick: Two fantastic coaches, but Izzo’s the best in the business and Green’s the best player on either team by far. That will be enough to get the Spartans to the Elite 8 yet again.

No. 6 Cincinnati (26-10) vs. No. 2 Ohio State (29-7) AT BOSTON

THE SKINNY: Gonzaga gave the Buckeyes all they could handle, even with star Canadian point guard Kevin Pangos having an off-game. Cincinnati took out a Florida State team this corner thought would reach the Final Four.

Cincinnati wins if: Yancy Gates goes off and outplays Jared Sullinger. Gates was only so-so against Florida State and is capable of much more; Aaron Craft doesn’t duplicate his effort against Pangos against Cincinnati’s talented collection of guards.

Ohio State wins if: One of the best defences around keeps rolling; William Buford and Craft continue to hit shots; Jared Sullinger has an all-around dominant game instead of just a good half; turnovers are kept under control against a team that forces a lot of them.

Wolstat’s pick: OSU is good enough to get to the Final 4. Sullinger is due for a big evening and it will be at the expense of the plucky Bearcats.

No. 7 Florida (24-10) vs. No. 3 Marquette (27-7) AT PHOENIX

THE SKINNY: Florida has out-scored its opponents at the tourney by 70 points so far. Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom can score with anybody.

Florida wins if: Big man Patric Young batters the Golden Eagles into submission; Johnson-Odom’s shots aren’t falling; scoring dynamos Bradley Beal, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton do their thing.

Marquette wins if: The defence continues to sizzle. Murray State was held to 31% shooting and committed 16 turnovers; if Florida’s standout scorers all go cold at the same time; Florida gets too overconfident. Sure the Gators thumped Murray State, but Marquette is a much better squad and will offer far tougher competition.

Wolstat’s pick: There is much to admire about Marquette, including its adversity-conquering Torontonian point guard Junior Cadougan, but Florida simply has too many weapons to fail here. Beal is one of the best college scorers to come around in a while and he is capable of carrying Florida to a win all by himself. Would be happy to be wrong for Cadougan’s sake, but can’t see it.

FRIDAY

No. 10 Xavier (23-12) vs. No. 3 Baylor (29-7) AT ATLANTA

THE SKINNY: You know by now Canadian Brady Heslip nailed nine triples for Baylor last time out. Xavier has gone from the team that stunningly fell to Andrew Nicholson and St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic-10 Tournament, to a good squad that is still around at the big tourney.

Xavier wins if: They use their advantage on the boards; Heslip cools off; the mercurial Jones and Miller turn back into pumpkins; Xavier guards play so well offensively that they tire Heslip and Pierre Jackson.

Baylor wins if: Jones or Miller dominate the way they can. If they both dominate, it won’t be close; Heslip stays hot; the supporting cast steps up; the rebounding gets better.

Wolstat’s pick: Unless Jones and Miller both play their worst game of the tournament, Xavier has little chance. Baylor presents matchup nightmares for opponents all over the floor. If Heslip starts out strong again, it could be game over early. Forget Baylor’s size and athletic advantages, the Bears will win on superior talent.

No. 13 Ohio (29-7) at No. 1 North Carolina (31-5) AT ST. LOUIS

THE SKINNY: UNC point guard Kendall Marshall has a removable splint on his fractured right wrist, but head coach Roy Williams says the Tar Heels expect to play without him. Ohio is first No. 13 seed in Sweet 16 since Bradley in 2006.

Ohio wins if: Marshall doesn’t play and they take advantage of fact that with Dexter Strickland injured, nobody else on team can handle the ball for extended minutes; Harrison Barnes takes a ton of shots and misses 70% of them; John Henson and Tyler Zeller don’t take advantage of height edge because Ohio prevents entry passes.

North Carolina wins if: Stillman White, the little-used freshman, is not completely terrible at point guard. All he has to do is take care of the ball and set up his talented teammates; Barnes finally shows why he’s been one of the most hyped prospects to come around in years; Henson plays like he is 100%.

Wolstat’s pick: It has been a nice run for Ohio and Marshall’s expected absence will be huge, but North Carolina has too much talent to fall here. Too much size and skill.

No. 4 Indiana (27-8) at No. 1 Kentucky (34-2) AT ATLANTA

THE SKINNY: Kentucky was scary enough when point guard Marquis Teague was playing poorly. If he’s found the game (24 points and seven assists in his last game) that made him the top-ranked point guard in the U.S. coming out of high school, the best just got even scarier.

Indiana wins if: Uber-talent Cody Zeller becomes the first player to figure out how to light up Anthony Davis; Wildcats come in over-confident and underestimate the Hoosiers; Kentucky gets into foul trouble early; one of the NCAA’s top offences gets back on track while Kentucky’s stalls.

Kentucky wins if: Teague dominates again; Davis plays like he has all season; one of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Terrence Jones erupts for a huge game; they come out hungry for revenge after losing to Indiana earlier in the season.

Wolstat’s pick: John Calipari is going to remind his guys about that loss all the way up until tipoff. The Wildcats are going to come out angry and will pound a talented team. Davis will consider stopping one of the NCAA’s best offences a personal challenge.

 

No. 11 North Carolina State (24-12) at No. 2 Kansas (29-6) AT ST. LOUIS

THE SKINNY: Looks like a blowout on paper and Kansas always seems to underachieve, but this one won’t be close: Wolfpack barely made the tourney cut and are playing with house money.

NC State wins if: They come in as relaxed as they should be and hit shots early to give Kansas a scare; if they find a way to slow down Thomas Robinson, arguably the best all-around player in college basketball; C.J. Leslie’s coming out party continues.

Kansas wins if: Robinson continues to dominate; if they play loose like the pressure is off after barely getting by Purdue; the Jayhawks don’t look past the Wolfpack.

Wolstat’s pick: NC State’s forwards should be able to slow down Robinson better than most teams have, but Kansas’ backcourt will step up to carry the Jayhawks through.

 


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