Breaking down the Sweet 16
Tyler Hansbrough - AP Photo
Tyler Hansbrough - AP Photo
Posted Mar 27, 2008

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Sweet 16 gets going today, and we'll give you the rundown of who's going to win and what to watch for as the field gets trimmed.

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Washington State, Thursday at 7:27 p.m. ET

This is a contrast of styles between the high-powered Tar Heel offense and the stingy Washington State defense. North Carolina coach Roy Williams wants to push the ball at every opportunity, while his counterpart, Tony Bennett, prefers to slow it down in the half-court game for a quality shot.

While the systems are completely different, the two teams share the fact that both have plenty of guys who can hurt you. UNC's star is junior big man Tyler Hansbrough, but Williams has numerous options that also include speedy point guard Ty Lawson, smooth sophomore Wayne Ellington and even sixth man Danny Green.

The Cougars rely on their veteran backcourt, Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, but also have a low-post option in Aussie junior Aron Baynes and a pair of capable role guys in senior Robbie Cowgill and junior Daven Harmeling.

Who Wins: North Carolina

Why: The Tar Heels finally have a healthy Lawson, and he's the key to their success. Lawson is one of the quickest point guards in the country and can apply a tremendous amount of pressure on both ends of the floor.

The Matchup: Kyle Weaver vs. Wayne Ellington. Weaver is one of the elite defenders in the nation and is capable of defending several positions. He'll need to hold Ellington in check for the Cougars to have a chance to advance.

Player You've Never Heard Of: Daven Harmeling. Don't be shocked if the Washington State forward comes up with a big shot or two from long range.

No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Louisville, Thursday at 9:57 p.m. ET

This game features two fiery coaches with the Vols' Bruce Pearl and Louisville's Rick Pitino. These are two guys that want their players to get up and down the floor with plenty of freedom to shoot the ball.

It also pits a pair of clubs that hasn't exactly received stellar point-guard play this season. Pearl actually went with J.P. Prince as his team's starting point guard for the first time this season last week, because Ramar Smith has been erratic all year. Pitino has been unimpressed with the play of Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee for most of the season, especially when it comes to making their teammates better.

The Vols aren't nearly as reliant this season on shooter Chris Lofton. They added transfer Tyler Smith, and he's been critical to their success because of his versatility. Pitino's key addition came in January, when senior big man David Padgett made a surprising return from yet another knee injury after it appeared his season — and career — might be over.

Who Wins: Tennessee

Why: This is a tough call, especially with Lofton banged up with a foot injury, but I'm still going with the Vols. They play with more intensity and their athletic big man could give Padgett some problems.

The Matchup: Edgar Sosa vs. Ramar Smith. If one of these guys comes out and delivers a quality performance, it could be the difference in their team getting to the Elite Eight.

Player You've Never Heard of: Brian Williams. Pearl could go with Williams in an effort to throw a bigger body at David Padgett and/or Derrick Caracter.


No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Davidson, Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET

I'm not going to lie: This is about the last Sweet 16 matchup I expected. However, I give Badgers coach Bo Ryan as much credit as just about anyone in the country. He's done a remarkable job with a team that doesn't feature a star. Wisconsin wins with balance and discipline.

Can Brian Butch and Wisconsin avoid the upset against Davidson? (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

Brian Butch is a fifth-year senior big man who won't blow you away, but he's a quality frontcourt guy. Marcus Landry may not look the part, but he's extremely underrated, as is defensive-minded senior Michael Flowers.

Bob McKillop's Wildcats have been led, well, carried by Stephen Curry. The son of former NBAer Dell has averaged 35 points in the first two games, wins against Gonzaga and Georgetown. Davidson also boasts a heady point guard in Jason Richards and a bunch of role guys.

Who Wins: Wisconsin

Why: Curry can't keep this up, can he? It's unlikely. While Davidson has some talent around him, it's difficult to imagine Ryan unable to devise a defensive scheme that can keep Curry from going for 30-plus again.

The Matchup: Michael Flowers vs. Stephen Curry. Flowers is one of the Big Ten's elite defenders, and Curry has been the tournament's most explosive offensive star.

Player You've Never Heard Of: Joe Krabbenhoft. The Wisconsin forward is the ultimate role player and does everything to help his team win games.

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 12 Villanova, Friday at 9:40 p.m. ET

This would have been one heck of a matchup if 'Nova coach Jay Wright could walk out there with Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Allan Ray. However, he's got a young group of guards that just isn't ready to take on the top-seeded Jayhawks, who feature arguably the most talented and balanced team in the country.

Don't get me wrong, sophomore Scottie Reynolds has been terrific and freshman Corey Stokes has emerged as a big-time shooter. But Wright's team is playing with house money after worrying about getting into the Big East tournament just three weeks ago.

The Jayhawks have all the pieces. You want guards? How about senior Russell Robinson, junior Mario Chalmers and sophomore Sherron Collins off the bench? How about a pro on the wing? Enter Brandon Rush. Up front, Bill Self can go with athletic forward Darrell Arthur and big men Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun.

Who Wins: Kansas

Why: Too much firepower. Options abound just about everywhere. If you stop one guy, there's just too many others capable of stepping up. If the Jayhawks' top defender, Chalmers, can contain Reynolds, it may be a long day for Villanova.

The Matchup: Mario Chalmers vs. Scottie Reynolds. Chalmers is a lock-down defender and Reynolds is the Wildcats' top offensive option.

Player You've Never Heard Of: Cole Aldrich. If the Jayhawks' freshman big man gets off the bench, Wright and his team are in trouble. That means it's a full-fledged rout.


No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 Stanford, Friday at 7:27 p.m. ET

The Cardinal got past a guard-heavy team when Stanford outlasted Marquette in overtime with coach Trent Johnson in the locker room after being ejected. Now the 7-foot Lopez twins — Brook and Robin — will go against another formidable backcourt in Texas' D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams.

Stanford point guard Mitch Johnson's play was critical against Marquette, and that'll be the case again vs. the Longhorns.

Texas relies heavily on Augustin and Abrams, but Rick Barnes' team is at its best when he gets contributions from skilled big man Connor Atchley and wing Justin Mason.

Who Wins: Stanford

Why: Stanford's guard play is much improved from a year ago, and the Longhorns don't have an answer for either of the Lopez twins.

The Matchup: Brook Lopez vs. Damion James/Connor Atchley. Texas will probably rotate a bunch of guys against Brook and Robin, but can anyone slow them down?

Player You've Never Heard Of: Gary Johnson. The Texas freshman is still getting over an ankle injury, and he'll need to give the Longhorns some minutes up front.

No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 5 Michigan State, Friday at 9:57 p.m. ET

The Tigers added the one piece that was missing from a pair of Elite Eight appearances in each of the past two years — a dominant point guard. Freshman Derrick Rose has come in and given John Calipari's club just what it needed, in terms of running the club and also picking spots when to score and take over the game.

Memphis has athletes all across the board, from Chris Douglas-Roberts and Antonio Anderson on the wings to Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey up front.

Michigan State's bigs aren't overly athletic, but the trio of Drew Naymick, Goran Suton and Marquise Gray are solid and could frustrate Dorsey. The core of the Spartans team lies with Tom Izzo's backcourt — seniors Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton and speedy freshman floor leader Kalin Lucas.

Who Wins: Michigan State

Why: I've gone with the Spartans since the start of the season and I'm sticking with them. If Neitzel is making shots, the Spartans are a deadly team. Just ask Pitt. Also, those Memphis free-throw woes are bound to catch up with the Tigers at some point.

The Matchup: Derrick Rose vs. Travis Walton/Kalin Lucas. Izzo will likely have to find more minutes for Walton, who will be needed on the floor to contain Rose. Lucas is too small to defend Rose.

Player You've Never Heard Of: Shawn Taggert. Memphis' lanky transfer hasn't done much in the first two games, but he'll be needed.


No. 3 Xavier vs. 7 West Virginia, Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET

Xavier will focus its defensive efforts on slowing down Joe Alexander. (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)

Sean Miller's Musketeers played a difficult non-conference schedule early in the season to prepare them for the NCAA tournament. Xavier has as much balance as just about anyone in the country.

Drew Lavender finally appears close to 100 percent after an ankle injury hampered his play for the second half of the season, and Josh Duncan is a matchup nightmare because of his size and ability to step away from the basket and make shots.

Slowing down West Virginia's athletic forward Joe Alexander is essential, but Bob Huggins' Mountaineers have more than just Alexander. Alex Ruoff is a big-time shooter and Joe Mazzulla stepped up against Duke.

Who Wins: Xavier

Why: The Musketeers have too much depth and can afford for one player to have an off night. That's not necessarily the case for West Virginia, which has more than people think, but is still too reliant on Alexander.

The Matchup: Stanley Burrell vs. Alex Ruoff. Burrell's job is always to slow down the opposing team's top scoring threat. My guess is he'll rotate between Ruoff and Alexander.

Player You've Never Heard Of: Derrick Brown. He may have the most potential of anyone in this game, including Alexander.

No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky, Thursday at 9:40 p.m. ET

The Bruins barely got past Texas A&M, and there's certainly some concern whether Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is close to 100 percent. However, Ben Howland's team still has plenty of other options. Point guard Darren Collison has returned to form of late, and freshman big man Kevin Love continues to produce.

Guard play will be important, and that will mean Russell Westbrook and Josh Shipp need to step up because coach Darrin Horn's Western Kentucky Hilltoppers boast a trio of senior guards.

Courtney Lee is a future NBA player, while Tyrone Brazelton possesses the speed and quickness to match up with Collison. Then you add in Ty Rogers and his ability to make shots and it's a club that could hang with UCLA — for a while, anyway.

Who Wins: UCLA

Why: Western Kentucky won't have anyone to counter Love in the paint. Jeremy Evans has plenty of potential, but he's not ready for this matchup.

The Matchup: Courtney Lee vs. Russell Westbrook. Lee can do just about everything on the offensive end, while Westbrook is athletic and is the Pac-10's top perimeter defender.

Player You've Never Heard Of: Tyrone Brazelton. The kid is a blur.

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for He can be reached at or check out his blog, Good 'N Plenty.

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