My hands still sting from all the loud clapping I did during Marquette‘s third round victory against Syracuse. As winnable as their first two games were, reality sets in a bit as the Golden Eagles have a mountain to climb if they want to complete an improbable run to the Final Four. Ohio State, North Carolina, and Kentucky are all powerhouse programs loaded with NBA talent. Here is my breakdown of the Sweet 16 West Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
By: David Kay
#1 Ohio State vs. #4 Kentucky
How the Buckeyes Win:
Let the big fella eat. Ohio State is at its best when they work the ball inside-out. Get the ball down low to Jared Sullinger, force the defense to either try and double Sullinger where he can kick it out to an open shooter, or defend him one-and-one and let the Big Ten Freshman of the Year go to work. Kentucky has Josh Harrellson at center who is known for getting into foul trouble. After Harrellson, Eloy Vargas is their only other big and he has been fairly ineffective all season long.
How the Wildcats Win:
Kentucky needs to get out and run as much possible and let Brandon Knight do his thing in the open court (the good Knight who scored 30 points in the third round against West Virginia and not the Knight whose only points was the game-winning bucket in the opening round game versus Princeton.) The Buckeyes have a very good half-court defense and while the Wildcats are a better three-point shooting this year than they were a year ago, I don’t think they can beat OSU in a half-court game.
Kentucky is also an underrated defensive team. Sip on this stat for a minute: UK is 25-0 when allowing 67 or fewer points in a game, but 2-8 when giving up 68 or more points. So if Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, and DeAndre Liggins can get in the faces of the OSU shooters, it will certainly help their chances of pulling off the upset.
Prediction: Ohio State 68, Kentucky 57
#11 Marquette vs. #2 North Carolina
How the Golden Eagles Win:
One of the keys for Marquette will be transition defense. UNC is at its best when Kendall Marshall is leading the break and using his outstanding court vision to find the open man running the floor. Even the Heels’ bigs, Tyler Zeller and John Henson run the floor as well as any big in college basketball. MU needs to get Carolina to beat them with their half-court offense which is often too reliant on the three ball. The Golden Eagles are a tenacious defensive team led by Jimmy Butler who has been able to lock down on opposing team’s better players. He will have to do so again when matching up with freshman Harrison Barnes.
Marquette must also have a hot night from downtown. Inside baskets will not come easy against the long frontcourt of Henson, whose Stretch Armstrong wingspan of 7’4” makes him one of the premiere shot blockers in the country, and Zeller. Marquette crashed the offensive glass hard against Syracuse but struggled getting putbacks due to their length… and UNC is even longer. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Dwight Buycks have to knock down some triples especially DJO as the Golden Eagles seem to be fairly ineffective on offense when the lefty is not stroking it with his three-point goggle eyes.
How the Tar Heels Win:
One of the weaknesses for North Carolina during the past couple of weeks has been their slow starts to games. UNC has trailed at the half in four of their last five contests. They have been able to win three of those do their spurt ability which allows them to rattle off 15-0 runs at the blink of an eye. Marquette seems to always find a way to hang with teams throughout a full forty minutes and the easiest way for the Heels to prevent this is by jumping out of the gates from the opening tip.
Prediction: North Carolina 77, Marquette 69
#1 Ohio State vs. #2 North Carolina
How the Buckeyes Win:
I will say the same thing I said for Marquette, do not let UNC get out and run. They can score points in bunches when they are on the break so taking care of the basketball will be a key as to not give the Heels easy fast break opportunities. That would be the only thing from preventing the Buckeyes to reach the Final Four.
How the Tar Heels Win:
OSU likes to play a smaller line-up with Aaron Craft moving into the point guard role and David Lighty ultimately playing the power forward spot. If Lighty has to guard Henson in the post that could be a major advantage for the Heels since he is so insanely long. Henson is not the greatest back to the basket player but he does have a nice hook shot with either hand. His leaping ability will also be a key to help Carolina keep Sullinger’s big body around from owning the glass.
Prediction: Ohio State 79, North Carolina 65
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a fomer contributor at The Washington Times Communities. You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.Follow paulmbanks