Sweet Sixteen Preview: West Region
#1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville
This is a matchup between two scrappy, defensively-minded teams. Who would expect anything different from a game between teams coached by Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino?
Michigan State won decisively in their first round game against #16 Western Kentucky, and then followed up that win with another victory over #9 Saint Louis. The Spartans showed some vulnerability against Saint Louis, winning by only 4 points (65-61). Saint Louis entered the game labeled as a “defensive team” and they showed little fear in playing the top-seeded Spartans.
Louisville has been on a tear since the Big East Tournament (which they won). The Cardinals have caused lots of turnovers (13 against New Mexico) and offensive headaches for their opponents in their Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament games. Expect those same traits to be apparent when they play Michigan State this week.
Both teams possess quality big men. For Michigan State, Derrick Nix is their “big” (6’9” 270 lbs.) and he will have to be ready to move and defend Louisville’s big man, Gorgui Dieng (6’11” 235 lbs.), who is much more mobile and longer than Nix. If Dieng gets into foul trouble, their big men candidates on the bench are bleak. Watch for Michigan State to feed the ball to Nix early-on in order to get Dieng into foul trouble. Without Dieng (3.2 BPG) on the court, Louisville’s defense will struggle. Louisville was outrebounded 34-23 against New Mexico, and Dieng had 10 of Louisville’s 23 rebounds.
For Louisville, Peyton Siva (9.1 PPG, 5.5 APG) has been the key to the Cardinals recent run. His ability to penetrate the defense and score or kick the ball out to open teammates has been pivotal. The individual matchup of Siva and Michigan State’s Keith Appling (11.5 PPG, 3.9 APG) will be intriguing to watch. The “2-guard” matchup between Michigan State’s Brandon Wood (8.3 PPG) and Louisville’s Kyle Kuric (13.1 PPG) will also be intriguing to watch and could decide the outcome in the game, depending on which of the two players is shooting the ball better.
The big difference in the game will be whether or not Louisville can defend Draymond Green (16.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG). Green is 6’7” and weighs 230 lbs. and finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists against Saint Louis. Louisville will likely use Chane Behanan (6’6” 250 lbs.) on Green and hope that the freshman can handle Green’s dynamic skillset. Behanan can rebound (7.4 RPG), but he is not on the same level athletically as Green.
This game will be fun to watch and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the both teams score in the low-to-mid 60s by the game’s end. Prediction: Michigan State 68, Louisville 60.
#3 Marquette vs. #7 Florida
This game will be a thriller, guaranteed! Marquette enters the game after blasting #14 BYU, 88-68, in the Round of 64, and then beating #6 Murray State, 62-53, in a tough Round of 32 game. Marquette out-shot BYU on all fronts, most notably field goal percentage (45.5% to 37.7%). Against Murray State, Marquette didn’t shoot the ball well, but they held the Racers to 31.3 FG% and 19.0 3P%. Florida enters the game after crushing #10 Virginia and #15 Norfolk State. Neither game was too close. Marquette will be a much more difficult task for the Gators than either of their first two opponents in the earlier rounds, but the Gators have the talent to win.
In Marquette’s first two games of the Tournament, forward Jae Crowder (17.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.4 SPG, 1.0 BPG) has shown why he’s one of the best players in the Big East conference. He posted a double-double against BYU (25 points, 16 rebounds) and Murray State (17 points, 13 rebounds). He dominated opposing defenders in the post and on the boards. He is living evidence of what must be an impressive strength and conditioning program at Marquette (Darius Odom-Johnson is too). He is the best player on Marquette and Florida will have to find an answer for him. Expect Florida to use Patric Young (10.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG) to guard Crowder and see if Young’s size (6’9” 245 lbs.) and length can slow down Crowder’s dominance.
Having Young guard Crowder will mean that Florida’s Erik Murphy (6’10” 229 lbs.) will guard Davante Gardner (6’8” 270 lbs.) in what could easily become a glaring mismatch in favor of Marquette. Gardner is big and he’s played big in Marquette’s two tournament games. Murphy is tall, but lanky, and Gardner’s physicality and ability to get to the free-throw line could cause problems for Florida.
The backcourt matchup between the two teams will be intriguing to watch. Marquette has Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG), Vander Blue (8.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG), and Junior Cadougan (6.5 PPG, 5.5 APG). Florida has Bradley Beal (14.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG), Kenny Boynton (16.3 PPG, 2.5 APG), and Erving Walker (12.1 PPG, 4.7 APG). It will be interesting to see who Buzz Williams and Billy Donovan choose to defend each of the opposing backcourt players. Expect Florida’s Walker to guard Marquette’s Junior Cadougan (and vice-versa), just because of similarities in size. Bradley Beal and Kenny Boynton can both score, but I would expect Darius Johnson-Odom to cover Beal, mainly because his physicality could bother Beal. Beal is the key to Florida’s offense. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds against #10 Virginia, and against #15 Norfolk State he finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds.
Marquette has a better bench than Florida and they play better defense overall. Florida has Billy Donovan (2 National Championships) as its coach and that’s a favorable advantage for the Gators. Prediction: Marquette 70, Florida 65.
Final Four Prediction
Marquette has the size, athleticism, and star power to make it to the Final Four. Jae Crowder is going to cause a mismatch against Florida that will ultimately decide the game. Assuming Michigan State can handle Louisville’s scrappy defense and advance, a Michigan State vs. Marquette game would be exciting. Jae Crowder vs. Draymond Green would be even more exciting. Marquette matches up well against Michigan State and this is the year the Golden Eagles should find themselves in the Final Four.