SOUTH REGION SWEET 16 PREVIEW
It wasn't that long ago that Florida and UCLA met in the NCAA Tournament with more at stake than an Elite 8 bid. In 2006, the Gators and Bruins battled for the national championship and the next year, they played in the Final Four. UCLA made it back to the Final Four in 2008, but has only won two tournament games since. The 2014 edition of the game should make for interesting viewing. The undercard is a pair of teams that just snuck in the bubble, but have justified their existence by taking care of the two, three, six and seven seeds. Stanford or Dayton will make it to the Elite 8 as a rare double-digit seed.
No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA
Key Matchup: Florida's press vs. the up-tempo Bruins offense. Florida coach Billy Donovan does not employ the full-court press for 40 minutes like his mentor, Rick Pitino, but he springs the trap at opportune moments. Opponents can get accustomed to the Gators' halfcourt defense before Donovan releases the hounds to change the pace of the game. The press may not bother UCLA because it likes to play at a decent clip and has a number of good ball handlers, including Kyle Anderson who should be able to see over the aggressive Gator defenders.
Florida will Win IF: it slows the Bruins attack. The Gators, who has not lost since Dec. 2 (against Sweet 16 team Connecticut), can beat a variety of teams. While the competition in the SEC might not have been particularly fierce, the team has both experience and depth to win any type of game - the Gators have not allowed more than 65 points since Feb. 22. UCLA might be the team's best competition since December, but the Gators can win if they dictate the game's pace. To do so, they will have to find a way to check Anderson.
UCLA will Win IF: they are able to turn this game into a track meet. It is common knowledge that the Bruins are offensively oriented. At 81.8 points per game, the team is 12th in the nation in scoring and will look to use the Gators' press (when it is employed) to push the pace even more. The team has scored at least 75 points in all of its post-season (Pac-12 and NCAA) games. UCLA will turn the ball over, but that is collateral damage to the high-powered attack, which is led by ...
Player to Watch: Kyle Anderson, UCLA. The point forward's game has matured nicely in his sophomore season (maybe some of that has to do with Shabazz Muhammad moving on). He is a triple-double waiting to happen and has averaged 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists in two tournament wins. If Anderson can have a superlative effort, he could lead the Bruins back to the Elite 8.
Prediction: Conventional wisdom says Florida will continue its winning streak and make a fourth consecutive trip to the Elite 8. Seniors Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young do not know anything else. But the call here is for UCLA to pull out the win because of superior offensive firepower and the team's ability to render the Florida press ineffective. Both teams have plenty of size, but Anderson is a player of the likes the Gators have not seen. The score may double the other Sweet 16 game and could be a classic tournament game.
No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton
Key Matchup: Stanford's sizable frontcourt vs. Dayton's athletic forwards. The Cardinal should have an advantage in the paint against the relatively undersized Flyers. Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis and Stefan Nastic are solid post defenders and should be able to clog the lane against Dayton. The Flyers might have to push the pace so that the trees of Stanford can not set up. Matt Kavanaugh and Devin Oliver are big enough to cause some issues for the Cardinal, but neither is skilled enough to stop Powell without help. Dayton is used to being at a size disadvantage against teams like Ohio State and Syracuse, and that did not stop it from coming out with a pair of close wins.
Stanford will Win IF: the bigs impose their will and the wings keep the Flyers from hitting too many three-pointers. Defensive three-point percentage might not be the most illustrative statistic, but Cardinal perimeter defenders held New Mexico to 19.0-percent shooting from long range and Kansas to 5-of-16. Players like Anthony Brown, a 6-6 swingman, fly around the perimeter, causing issues for the opponent's marksmen. Stanford should be able to use the advantage in the frontcourt to get close-range baskets, even though Dayton has been tough in the paint.
Dayton will Win IF: it continues to get a little lucky. Not to take anything away from the Flyers, who beat Ohio State and Syracuse to get to the Sweet 16, but they eked out the pair of wins by a combined three points (and neither game featured more than a combined 120 points). Stanford, which does not play fast, won't try to push the pace because of its size advantage. The Flyers must solve the Cardinal's perimeter defense and continue to hit a fair amount of three-pointers (43.8 percent against the Orange, just 3-of-13 against the Buckeyes) to make up for other deficiencies. The Flyers' bigs must stay out of foul trouble as well.
Player to Watch: Dwight Powell, Stanford. The 6-10 senior bounced back from a rough opening game against New Mexico (three points before fouling out, 0-of-8 from the field) to play well against Kansas (15 points, seven boards). He can score in a variety of ways, including jumpers and drives to the basket. While Kavanaugh is a decent defender, Powell should find ways to score against him and Dayton's other frontcourt players. Powell can get into foul trouble, though, as he had four fouls in each of his last three games.
Prediction: Neither of these teams has topped 60 points in their two tournament wins, and this game should not be a case of two negatives (if that is what a low-scoring team is) becoming a positive. This game will be played at a slow pace in which each possession gains extra value. In the end, Stanford will win because of its ability to get inside to create easy baskets.