Sweet Sixteen Preview: Day Two

#3 LSU vs. #2 Michigan State (CBS, 7:09 P.M.)

After nearly a much needed week off, the Tigers and Spartans will face off in a match that I think could be settled in the paint, or perhaps by how large of a rebound margin that Michigan State has over LSU.

Tremont Waters had to delve deep into his system and find his clutch gene last weekend against Maryland, putting in a go-ahead layup with under two second remaining. This was after allowing the Terps to fight there way back on several occasions. It will likely take a lot more of that to affect the outcome in a positive manner for the Tigers.

In the backcourt, I think Cassius Winston can prove to be a massive problem on both ends of the ball. Winston’s facilitating the ball played an important role in the Spartans dismantling of Minnesota in the Round of 32. If the junior guard is able to get to the rim and score, it may be detrimental to the Tigers, in terms of finding a way to shut down any aspect of Michigan State.

Naz Reid should expect his number to be called on throughout the night. He can be such a versatile tool down low on both ends of the court. If he is having a spectacular night, that may be where LSU can find an edge, starting with getting boards on defense and maximizing the time they spend with the ball.

On the sidelines, Will Wade is still being replaced by Tony Bemford, as one would expect for the rest of the year, however long that may be. If the Tigers can keep going, it may be a more permanent look down in Baton Rouge next year. In terms of antics off the court, something to keep your eye on is Tom Izzo, who has been in prime form on the bench and in his post game media availability.

Players to Watch

LSU: #0 Naz Reid, #3 Tremont Waters

Michigan State: #5 Cassius Winston, #11 Aaron Henry

Winner Plays: The winner of Duke vs. Virginia Tech

#5 Auburn vs. #1 North Carolina (TBS, 7:29 P.M.)

If anyone was questioning the “legitness” (totally a word) of Bruce Pearl’s side, they are for real. In fact, they are “blow Kansas out of the gym” real. Senior Bryce Brown? He plays a pretty monumental role in the credibility of the team. He shot 7-11 from the three point line and lead the way in last Saturday’s game.

Big showings by Brown and fellow guard Jared Harper have been the key to Auburn’s success thus far. In the paint, Auburn doesn’t really have a massive presence, lacking a starter over 6’8. This bodes well for a matchup against North Carolina, a team that likes to run, but when slowed down, will not be able to merely body their way to the basket.

UNC will be mostly concerned with the presence of Nassir Little. The freshman is having himself a tournament, averaging 19.5 and 5.5 in the tournament thus far. To Carolina’s concern, Little is a game-time decision that Roy Williams considers doubtful before the game after experiencing flu-like symptoms this week.

The absence of Little will only give more incentive for Coby White to have himself a game. A player who will probably be earning some bucks in the NBA next season, White has proven himself to be a problem this season and should be a good challenge on both ends of the ball for the backcourt of Auburn.

Lastly, there’s a man named Luke Maye in this game. Maye had 20 and 14 in last weeks game against Washington, something we’re not surprised to see in March from this guy. I would expect there to be more and more of a chip on his shoulder if UNC were to progress as the culmination of his career approaches.

Players to Watch

Auburn: #1 Jared Harper, #2 Bryce Brown

North Carolina: #32 Luke Maye, #5 Nassir Little (if he plays)

Winner Plays: The winner of Houston vs. Kentucky

#4 Virginia Tech vs. #1 Duke (CBS, 9:39 P.M.)

The world stopped turning for a brief moment Sunday night, as that follow-up layup attempt went around the rim and out, sending UCF home. Coach K resembled a man that had been to hell and back after the game, which would have been a loss to Johnny Dawkins, one of Krzyzewski’s finest products on and off the court.

However, they live to fight another day. The Zion circus continues, which was half the reason I believe the world wanted to see UCF pull through, no matter how consequential to their brackets. The media and Zion exploitation is a different conversation for a different day, however.

There is a lot of talk about if the Knights gave the blueprint for defeating Duke or did we all know it and perhaps a 7’6 center aids the process. I tend to think the whole “blueprint” concept will prove not to be that relevant. They’re a basketball team, an extremely talented one, but in the end, a basketball team. A few minutes watching some tape and reviewing the statistics would show their strengths and weaknesses.

For Duke, this is about how well this lineup can execute together. Zion will probably have himself a night, it’s what he does. However, if RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish are only mediocre, or even slightly above, that will not cut it. This field started at 68 and is down to 16 elite teams. Elite teams can handle a once in a generation talent like Zion, but they cannot take a squad full of them. Quickly back to mainstream takes though, Tre Jones cannot shoot more than four shots beyond-the-arc if the Blue Devils want any sort of efficiency on that end.

Now, about those Hokies. They tend to have Duke’s number in recent years, at least in Blacksburg. When they faced the Blue Devils a little over a month ago, Tech didn’t have Justin Robinson, who is probably the most important piece of any team in the ACC. It is uncertain if he will be in the starting lineup tonight, after coming off the bench the last two games. As long as he is in for a considerable amount of time, I would expect the Hokies’ offense to move much more fluid and score more.

Tech will also be able to create separation from Duke if they shoot the ball as well as they are capable of. Ty Outlaw, the Hokies’ best from beyond the arc, will play despite some legal issues that had to be resolved this week. With the exception of Wabissa Bede, Tech would be pleased with any of their players putting up shots from distance if the play opens up that way.

The final storyline of the night is the potential of Buzz Williams’ stint in Blacksburg ending, should the Hokies lose. A native of Texas, Williams has been linked with the Texas A&M job for a while now. It is safe to say he has been one of the most influential coaches to any program recently, taking Tech from the bottom of the ACC to contenders in four years.

Players to Watch

Virginia Tech: #5 Justin Robinson, #42 Ty Outlaw

Duke: #3 Tre Jones, #2 Cam Reddish

Winner Plays: The winner of LSU vs. Michigan State

#3 Houston vs. #2 Kentucky (TBS, 9:59 P.M.)

Kentucky weathered the Wofford storm last weekend, although it required the most successful three-pointer shooter in NCAA history to go 0-12 from the field. On the flip side, Houston looked real impressive against Ohio State, lead by Corey Davis Jr.

Davis is averaging 23.5 and 6.5 throughout the NCAA tournament thus far. Getting to the bucket is a task that will have to be accomplished for the Cougars if they expect to defeat Kentucky, who are having a sound defensive tournament, allowing an average of 50 points in their two games this postseason.

All eyes will be locked in to see if the Wildcats have PJ Washington back after missing the first two tournament games with a foot injury. Being without their finest player is something Calipari’s group has taken in stride, although their competition has not been too fierce, thus far. That can be said about both of the teams in this contest, however. Big Blue will look for Keldon Johnson to put in a performance much like the first one of the tournament, where he had 25 and 6.

Players to Watch

Houston: #5 Corey Davis Jr.

Kentucky: #3 Keldon Johnson, #25 PJ Washington (if he plays)

Winner Plays: The winner of UNC vs. Auburn

Top Photo: USA Today via Reuters

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Author: Will Copeland

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