7:27 PM (3) BYU vs. (2) Florida (TBS)
How they got here
BYU: W 74-66 over Wofford and 89-67 over Gonzaga
Florida: W 79-51 over UC Santa Barbara and 73-65 over UCLA
These two teams met in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament, with Jimmer Fredette going off for 47 points in a BYU overtime victory. These are two different teams however, and that includes the Florida backcourt of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. Their improved decision-making is why Billy Donovan's team won the SEC regular season crown, and Walker's big plays late against UCLA made the difference as they advanced to their first Sweet 16 since 2007. The top two scorers on the team (Boynton- 14.0 ppg, Walker- 14.7 ppg), these two guards have the speed to change the dynamic of a game in just a few minutes time. Boynton's most important task on Thursday will likely be to guard Fredette, and his spraining an ankle in practice early this week sure doesn't help in that department.
Fredette will essentially have five sets of eyes on him every possession which is no different than any other game for the senior. Averaging 28.8 points per game, Fredette shoots 45.5% from the field and 40.6% from three and averaged 33 points and 6.5 assists per game last weekend. Six of the last seven games he's scored 30 or more points, coinciding with the suspension of Brandon Davies. But just as important for the Cougars will be the play of Jackson Emery and Charles Abouo, two perimeter players with the ability to punish teams that focus solely on Fredette. Emery scored 16 points and dished out four assists in BYU's win over Gonzaga and he's had good outing throughout the course of the season, most notably 22 points in the win at UNLV back in January.
Florida can counter on the wing with one of the most versatile players in the country in SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons. There isn't much that Parsons can't do, scoring 11.4 points per game while leading the team in both rebounding and assists. Add to him a deep frontcourt led by seniors Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus and you've got a unit that can make things very difficult for the opposition. Florida is a plus-5.9 in rebounding margin and while BYU didn't feel the effects of Davies' absence in either of their two tournament games to date, the Gators have the size and physical presence necessary to control the boards.
Abouo and Noah Hartsock are two of the players Dave Rose will need to contribute on the glass but BYU has been a team that's rebounded by unit all season long. They'll need to do that again tonight in order to win. If Florida can keep the game at a half-court tempo their interior presence can make the difference. But that's what Gonzaga failed to do last Saturday and it resulted in them getting blown out. Open-floor opportunities for Fredette and company can be lethal, so the Gators would be best-served to run only when the opportunity presents itself.
9:57 PM (8) Butler vs. (4) Wisconsin (TBS)
How they got here
Butler: W 60-58 over Old Dominion and 71-70 over Pittsburgh
Wisconsin: W 72-58 over Belmont and 70-65 over Kansas State
Many think of Butler as a half-court team and that would be correct, but tonight brings on an opponent that tempo-wise makes them look like a "run & gun" outfit. Wisconsin runs an average of just 57.5 possessions per game yet still approach 70 points per game (68.4 ppg), ranking among the best teams in America when it comes to offensive efficiency. Point guard Jordan Taylor is one of the nation's best, averaging 18.0 points and 4.8 assists per game on the season. Taylor struggled in the win over Kansas State but when the time to make a big play arrives the junior will be there. Butler has one of the top defensive point guards in the country in Ronald Nored so things will be tough for Taylor offensively but he can still get it done.
The perimeter scoring for Butler comes from Shelvin Mack and Shawn Vanzant with the former being one of the more talented shooting guards around. Mack averages 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game for the Bulldogs, and outside of forward Matt Howard he's the guy Butler will look to in a number of their offensive sets. Butler does a good job of finding good looks offensively, shooting 44.5% from the field, and it may be slightly easier for them to execute offensively than it will be for Wisconsin (Badgers allow an offensive efficiency of 101.7; Butler allows 98.5). The key for Howard will be to remain on the floor, something he's done a better job of this season, due to the presence of Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil.
While both have the ability to step out on the perimeter and knock down shots, Leuer leads the Badgers in both scoring and rebounding and will be a tough cover for whoever gets that assignment. Butler forward Andrew Smith will be important defensively, because if he can spend some time on Leuer that would help keep Howard away from risky situations in terms of fouls. Khyle Marshall should have the opportunity to make some plays in the frontcourt as well, and the Badgers will have some other contributors as well. Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans are two players Wisconsin will call on for minutes off the bench, and Bruesewitz has made big plays late in important games. Given Butler's patience the tempo Wisconsin will want to play at shouldn't be a huge problem so look for this one to go right down to the wire.