Your Sweet 16 Commentary: East Region Preview

    
March 25th, 2011
The East Regional tips off tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. and while three of the top four seeds have done as expected in reaching this point, there is a surprise as well. Marquette, who looked like a mediocre basketball team in their regular season finale against Seton Hall in this same arena, has knocked off Xavier and Syracuse to reach this point. North Carolina and Kentucky had turning points as well, with the Tar Heels improving once Kendall Marshall took over at the point and the Wildcat veterans stepping up late in the season has helped them. And then there's Ohio State, the top overall seed in the field that has run like an efficient and lethal machine all season long. Here's a preview of tonight's action.

7:15 PM (11) Marquette vs. (2) North Carolina (CBS)
How they got here
Marquette: W 66-55 over Xavier and 66-62 over Syracuse
North Carolina: W 102-87 over Long Island and 83-80 over Washington

Going off of NBA-caliber talent alone it would be easy to hand this one to the Tar Heels, but if the players were to go into tonight's game with an attitude like this they'll be headed back to Chapel Hill in the morning. Marquette may not have national superstars but what they do have is a coaching staff that emphasizes effort and preparation. There's no doubt that head coach Buzz Williams will have his Golden Eagles ready to go, and with experienced players such as Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom leading the way the effort will be there for 40 minutes. In the win over Syracuse the Golden Eagles out-rebounded the Orange 30-24, forced 18 Syracuse turnovers and outscored them 19-5 from the foul line, helping make up for Syracuse shooting 55.3% from the field.

Johnson-Odom (17 points) and Butler (10) were two of the offensive leaders in that win along with Jae Crowder off the bench (16 points, seven rebounds), and their ability to attack the basket could pose a problem for North Carolina. The Golden Eagles shoot 35% from beyond the arc but they also get 23% of their points from the foul line. If North Carolina can't slow down the dribble penetration they will struggle defensively, but it isn't as if they don't bring weapons to the table themselves. Marshall has an impressive basketball IQ to go along with spectacular floor vision, setting up the likes of Harrison Barnes on the wing and John Henson and Tyler Zeller inside. Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald will also be used on the perimeter, and Marquette can counter with the likes of Vander Blue, Dwight Buycks and Junior Cadougan.

Carolina's size will be a concern for Marquette, beginning with Barnes at the three. As he's gained a better understanding of what Roy Williams wants done and how his game fits the freshman from Ames, Iowa has steadily improved as the year's progressed. Averaging a team-best 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, Barnes can knock down shots from deep as well as mid-range. One would have to imagine that Butler gets the call defensively for Marquette early, and how effective this is may also depend on what Marquette's big men bring to the table. If Joseph Fulce, Davante Gardner and Chris Otule hold their own inside against Henson and Zeller, more of Marquette's defensive focus can be shifted to Barnes.

UNC has a rebounding margin of plus-6.5 and while Marquette does out-rebound their opposition they aren't as good as the Tar Heels. This is one area where the big men come into play tonight; if they can hold their own on the glass in addition to making things tough for Henson and Zeller offensively Marquette increases their chances of winning. Also watch the energy at the start of the game, because if North Carolina isn't ready to rise to the challenge Marquette will present from an effort standpoint they may fall behind early.

9:45 PM (4) Kentucky vs. (1) Ohio State (CBS)
How they got here
Kentucky: W 59-57 over Princeton and 71-63 over West Virginia
Ohio State: W 75-46 over Texas-San Antonio and 98-66 over George Mason

The nightcap will feature some of the best freshmen in the country, but the veterans for both Kentucky and Ohio State will be vitally important as well. Thad Matta can surround Jared Sullinger with versatile and experienced players who can do a number of things offensively, including sharpshooter Jon Diebler and wings William Buford and David Lighty. As a team the Buckeyes shoot 49.9% from the field and 42.4% from three, assisting on 58% of their made baskets and leading the nation in offensive efficiency. Freshman point guard Aaron Craft has played better than many outsiders expected before the season began, doing a good job of distributing the basketball in addition to playing solid defense on opposing point guards.

He'll have his hands full with Brandon Knight however, as the freshman went off for 30 points in their win Saturday over West Virginia. When Kentucky needs a basket in a key situation the ball ends up in Knight's hands, as it did against Princeton despite his not making a shot prior to that game-winner. Classmate Doron Lamb averages 12.6 points per game and veterans DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller have both stepped up their play over the last month. Liggins is one of the best defensive players in the country, possessing the athleticism and tenacity needed to harass even the best offensive players. Miller has become more aggressive offensively and when that happens the entire team plays better offensively.

Inside is where Kentucky will need to be their most effective on the defensive end thanks to the presence of Sullinger, who is a near lock to score when receiving the ball in the paint. Josh Harrellson will need to continue his solid play if the Wildcats are to slow the freshman down, and Terrence Jones has to continue to be an offensive threat as well. Ohio State has Dallas Lauderdale inside to help with the rebounding but he isn't much of a scoring threat, so it wouldn't be a major surprise if the Buckeyes simply decided to surround Sullinger with perimeter players should the opportunity present itself. Kentucky making Sullinger's quality touches tougher to come by gives them a chance to win, but that's a task that proven easier said than done throughout the course of the season.