SOUTHEAST REGION SWEET 16 PREVIEW
Site: New Orleans
The Sweet 16 is a mixed bag this year that features five mid-major teams, including Butler, Richmond, VCU, San Diego State and BYU, though the latter two were high seeds. The only upset in the first round of the Southeast Region was perennial mid-major power Gonzaga knocking off St. John's. Butler once again eliminated a No. 1 seed from the Big East in thrilling fashion on a last-second free throw by Matt Howard. Two very strong defensive teams meet up in the Sweet 16 in Wisconsin and Butler with two explosive offensive teams in BYU and Florida on the other side.
No. 8 Butler vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
Key Matchup: Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor against Butler's Shelvin Mack could be the deciding factor in this game. Mack was sensational throughout in the one-point victory over the Pitt Panthers, pouring in 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting while guarding one of the Big East's best players in Gilbert Brown. Mack also ended an 11-0 Pittsburgh run in the second half when he hit a three from the top of the key. Mack is averaging 22.5 points a game but will need Ronald Nored to help guard Taylor so Mack stays fresh on the offensive side of the ball. Taylor is known for his offensive skills, but he made the play of the night against Kansas State's Jacob Pullen blocking his tying three-point attempt in the last seconds to preserve the victory. He played all 40 minutes and is one of the more physical guards in the country.
Butler will Win IF: its defense contests three-point shots and clogs the passing lanes to Wisconsin big men Jon Leuer and Mike Bruesewitz. Jordan Taylor had a rough night shooting for the Badgers against Kansas State, but he is capable going off for 30-plus points on any give night. Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack will have to stay in front of him to cut off his penetration. Butler's bigs must stay out of foul trouble and play smart basketball. Matt Howard and Andrew Smith were forced to play the last 10 minutes of the Old Dominion game with four fouls and were less agressive. Role players Chase Stigall and Garrett Butcher must come up with timely baskets when open.
Wisconsin will Win If: it continues its lock down defense on Butler's top players Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. The Badgers shut down a hot-shooting Belmont team and controlled the tempo against Kansas State in the opening weekend. Jordan Taylor will have to shoot better than his 2-of-16 against the Wildcats for the Badgers to have a chance. Keaton Nankivil and Mike Bruesewitz have been solid behind the arc; they need to hit their open shots. If the Badgers secure the ball and get proficient shooting games from top players Taylor and Jon Leuer, the Badgers will come out on top.
Player to Watch: Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor. He has been the most consistent guard in the Big Ten, and when he is hot the Badgers usually win. He struggled in the last game but had the play of the game with a huge block to lead the Badgers to victory. Taylor was 6-of-6 from the free-throw line and led the team in assists. He controls the tempo and rarely comes out of the game. In the opening-round game against Belmont he shot 5-of-9 from the three-point range and was 6-of-8 from the line.
Prediction: Butler will push its winning streak to 12 and move on to the Elite Eight. The Final Four experience and clutch play of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard will impact this game. Wisconsin's offense has been too inconsistent to get past the intesse pressure this Butler team presents.
No. 3 BYU vs. No. 2 Florida
Key Matchup: This is a rematch of last year's NCAA Tournament first-round game, a 99-92 BYU win in double overtime. If the Florida guards can hold star Jimmer Fredette to 30 points or less they should be in good shape. Fellow guard Jackson Emery will be matched up with either speedy Erving Walker or the diminutive Kenny Boynton. The Gators are a fast-paced team that averages 71.8 ppg. Emery's perimeter defense on Walker and Boynton will be of vital importance in this game.
BYU Will win IF: its transition defense gets back to prevent the high-flying Gators from racking up fastbreak points. Chandler Parsons, Erving Walker and Alex Tyus are tough to stop in the open court; the Cougars will have to be aware of their assignments after turnovers. If the Cougars continue to shoot 50 percent or better as they did in the win over Gonzaga, they have a great shot to upset the Gators. Big man Noah Hartsock must contain Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin down low and continue his hot shooting from beyond the arc.
Florida will Win If: it plays with defensive pressure and intensity that was missing in its second-round game against UCLA. The Gators can't give the Cougars many open looks from the basket after BYU bludgeoned Gonzaga from the field. Erving Walker plays bigger than he is, scoring the 10 of the last 12 points for the Gators against UCLA. He will have to continue his hot shooting for the Gators to advance. Senior Chandler Parsons needs to be a bigger part of the offense - he only had seven points in 37 minutes of action.
Player to Watch: Florida's Chandler Parsons. We all know about Fredette, but the SEC player of the year needs to makes his presence felt early for the Gators to get off to a good start. He has the ability to take over a game with his versatility - he had 10 assists, 10 points and seven rebounds in the first-round game over Santa Barbara, and he could be matched up with Fredette to use his height advantage.
Prediction: Florida wins this game and moves on to face Butler in the Elite Eight, ending BYU's dream of its first Final Four. The Gators have too much depth and size and should be able to wear down the Cougars down the stretch. The Cougars will surely miss big man Brandon Davies in this one.