Friday's Sweet 16 Previews

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THE NCAA TOURNAMENT - HERE ARE FRIDAY'S SWEET 16 GAME PREVIEWS FROM NEWARK & SAN ANTONIO

By Jim Hurley:

This Friday night's Sweet 16 card features two head coaches who already have tucked away national championships - North Carolina's Roy Williams (2005 and '09) and Kansas boss-man Bill Self (2008) - but might this region really be settled by the three young head coaches who have made a major name for themselves this merry month of March?

VCU's Shaka Smart, Richmond's Chris Mooney and Marquette's Buzz Williams have combined to cut down the likes of Georgetown, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Xavier and Syracuse in this year's "Big Dance" - not bad, right? - and there might be bigger/better things ahead for this triumvirate.

Maybe you went into this NCAA Tournament thinking about the likes of Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough, Kansas State's Jacob Pullen and Washington's Isaiah Thomas (among others) but the names that continue to make hay instead include the likes of VCU's Joey Rodriguez, Richmond's Justin Harper and Kentucky's Josh Harrellson and all of 'em are in action on this final Friday in March ... now let's see who's the survivors/advancers!

We'll get to our Friday Sweet 16 game previews in just a moment but first this key reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are all over the NCAA Tournament along with the NIT, the CBI and College Insider Tournament, too - and don't forget the NBA -- and you can snap up all the Game-Day Winners from here thru June. Call us at the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or check us out right here online -- so don't miss out on all the fun-and-profits as "March Madness" rolls on and remember that the 2011 Major-League Baseball Season is right around the corner -- Opening Day/Night is Thursday, March 31st with Six (6) games on the schedule including the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers. Make sure you keep rolling in the dough with Hoops and -soon enough -Baseball as Jim Hurley keeps banging out the profits!

NCAA TOURNAMENT - EAST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Prudential Center - Newark, NJ
    
#11 MARQUETTE (22-14) vs. #2 NORTH CAROLINA (28-7) - 7:15 p.m. ET
This is fact, not fiction: The 2010-11 North Carolina Tar Heels are far from a polished team and more than just a little rough 'round the edges ... but where does it say that Roy Williams can't win his third national title at the school with this crew?

The Heels have more "length" than any team still alive in this tourney and evidence continues to mount that super-frosh Harrison Barnes (22 points in last Sunday's scary 86-83 non-cover versus 3 ½-point underdog Washington) is ready/willing/able to take (and hit) the big shot plus Barnes has proven he can create his own shot too and that's key here against a Marquette squad that can score plenty and can go to a half-dozen different players to get its points.

Note that the Golden Eagles - a once-upon-a-time bubble team for this year's tourney just a few weeks back - must rattle frosh North Carolina PG Kendall Marshall (14 assists and just 4 turnovers versus Washington) here or else the Heels will be getting more inside and open looks than they can count with F Tyler Zeller (team-high 23 points against the UW Huskies) especially adept at scoring with quick-release shots from the low box area.

How can Marquette keep up this tourney magic?

Well, Buzz Williams' club can't let a 12-2 or 14-5 type scoring spree by Carolina bother 'em as was the case last Sunday when Syracuse charged out of the gate quickly with a 19-9 lead - the Golden Birdies didn't blink and wound up forcing 18 Orange turnovers in all and than won on a clutch three-pointer by Darius Johnson-Odom who must get off an array of triple tries here if Marquette has serious upset designs in thee Garden State.

Current Las Vegas Line: North Carolina (- 4) over Marquette

    
#4 KENTUCKY (27-8) vs. #1 OHIO STATE (34-2) - approximately 9:45 p.m. ET
No doubt about it: Lots was made of the fact the O-State Buckeyes drilled 16 triples in last Sunday's runaway 98-66 win against 11 ½-point underdog George Mason but little fuss has been made of the fact the 'Eyes have surrendered a grand total of 112 points thus far in this "Big Dance" and now the Columbus kids must stifle a prolific Kentucky attack that's been rather stifled so far in this year's tourney (see 59 points versus Princeton and 71 points against West Virginia).

If Kentucky head coach John Calipari has his way here, than his Wildcats will be quick to move the ball around the perimeter and keep Ohio State from double-teaming star frosh G Brandon Knight (game-high 30 points in that 71-63 win/cover against 3½-point pup West Virginia). Knight - who propelled the SEC Tournament champs to that "second-round" win against Princeton with his running bank shot from the right side - has a tendency to go one-on-one too much while letting mates stand around and so one key here is how many assists will UK register as the 12 "dimes" on 24 made FGs against West Virginia simply was not enough.

Meanwhile, many of the tourney games so far have been decided or determined by put-back baskets and here's a something-to-watch bit here: Kentucky's veteran F Josh Harrellson (15 points with 8 rebounds - including 4 offensive caroms) must be a major "garbage collector" here and it won't hurt if he can draw a couple of fouls on Ohio State mega-star Jared Sullinger. If the 'Cats can score at least 10 points off offensive boards here, than Calipari's kids have a serious shot at landing this Sweet 16 upset.

P.S., if Kentucky doesn't find a way to slow down the three-point shooting of Jon Diebler and David Lighty, than it'll be lights out anyway!

Current Las Vegas Line: Ohio State (- 6) over Kentucky

 

NCAA TOURNAMENT - SOUTHWEST REGIONAL SEMIFINALS
Alamodome - San Antonio, TX
    
#12 RICHMOND (29-7) vs. #1 KANSAS (34-2) - 7:25 p.m. ET
There will be more than a few David vs. Goliath mentions here on this telecast but be sure of this: The heavy-duty dog Richmond Spiders won't be shaking in their high tops when they do take to the floor against the tournament's second-rated #1 seed. In fact, Richmond - 69-66 winners against 3-point favorite Vanderbilt in "second-round" play and than easy 65-48 winners against 5-point pup Morehead State - have toughened their hide this year with victories against the likes of Purdue, VCU and Duquesne and bound into this Round of 16 clash armed with the knowledge that they just beat a tourney team without a major contribution from G Kevin Anderson (see 4-of-11 FG shooting for 14 points against Morehead State).

Still, Anderson - averaging a hefty 16.7 ppg in this 2010-11 season - must gear it up here and F Justin Harper (19 points on 9-of-18 FG shooting versus Morehead State) must steer clear of foul woes and make the Morris twins - that's Marcus and Markieff - really have to work for their points here.

In many of the Kansas wins this season, the Morris Brothers were able to carve out space in the low box area and score at will - note they were a composite 16-of-26 from the floor for 41 points in last Sunday's 73-59 win/cover against 8-point underdog Illinois - and it says here that Richmond must keep this dynamic duo under 50 percent shooting and must now allow the Jayhawks to get heated up from behind the arc where rainbow-shooting G Brady Morningstar could be called on to get sizzling-hot after netting just one triple in last Sunday's win against the Illini.

Two coaching items here: Kansas boss-man Bill Self loves to open up the game into a 94-foot affair but Richmond head coach Chris Mooney will be counting on his team milking the 35-second shot clock as often as possible - a game in the 60s means the Spiders have a shot.

Current Las Vegas Line: Kansas (- 10.5) over Richmond

    
#11 VCU (26-11) vs. #10 FLORIDA STATE (23-10) - approximately 9:55 p.m. ET
Don't let anybody tell you differently: The VCU Rams have been the numero uno story of this year's NCAA Tournament thanks to wins against USC, Georgetown and Purdue - and Shaka Smart's guys say they ain't finished yet!

Point guard Joey Rodriguez (12 points, 11 assists and 0 turnovers in last Sunday's epic 94-76 triumph over the 9-point favorite Boilermakers) can deflate an opposing team with his quickness and his smarts and no doubt this is the key to this Sweet 16 battle - the FSU Seminoles have to unnerve Rodriguez and make him cough up the ball plus Virginia Commonwealth must not allow this game to get too physical 'cause the ACC guys are bigger/stronger/tougher.

In fact, in last Sunday's convincing 71-57 win against 5-point favorite Notre Dame, the 'Noles bottled up the finesse-like Irish while allowing just 7-of-30 three-point makes but did you see how all those wine-colored jerseys converged on ND players in the paint?

The stat sheet hardly did Leonard Hamilton's team any real justice as Florida State blocked nine shots and changed the trajectory of another handful-plus attempts and here you can expect more minutes for defensive stalwart Chris Singleton (10 minutes of game action against the Irish) who might get some up-close and personal time with VCU's Jamie Skeen.

Keep in mind that Florida State sports the stingiest defense in the land while holding opponents to a measly 31 percent accuracy rate but the killer about last Sunday's win against Notre Dame is that the Sems' three-point shooting was clicking (see 9-of-19) and G Michael Snaer (three triples against ND) could be one of those under-the-radar players that greatly influences this contest.

Can the magic continue for VCU - and won't this provide more anti-Jay Bilas and anti-Dick Vitale fodder - or is the magic carpet ride gonna finally come to an end against the best slam-shut defense in the country?

Current Las Vegas Line: Florida State (- 3.5) over VCU

NOTE: Lots more NCAA Tournament coverage in the next Jim Sez.

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