Thursday's Sweet-16 Game by Game Previews

GAME-BY-GAME PREVIEWS FOR THURSDAY'S SWEET 16 ACTION

After taking a few days off, the Big Dance is back with a vengeance Thursday Night with a Grand Slam of potentially great games. We're back as promised to crunch the numbers for you. We'll be doing combination previews this time because there are only four games. We'll use the format we were using in the Round of 64 that gives you updated computer rankings and efficiency marks for all the remaining teams, as well as the Round of 32 approach that reviewed the most recent boxscore to see how each team got there.

Note that we'll follow that exact same format Friday when we study the rest of the Sweet 16 matchups.

We start in Boston where a pair of teams from the Big Ten hope to make it a big night in Beantown...

EAST REGIONAL IN BOSTON

SYRACUSE (1) VS. WISCONSIN (4)
Wisconsin: 7 in Sagarin, 5 in Pomeroy, 20 on offense, 4 on defense
Syracuse: 4 in Sagarin, 6 in Pomeroy, 9 on offense, 15 on defense
Vegas Line: Syracuse by 4, total of 121

Syracuse finally looked like a champion against Kansas State, after a few weeks of very shaky form. They'll need to play at a high level to survive a Wisconsin team that's well-suited to bust a zone defense. The computers are suggesting this is an Elite 8 caliber game rather than a Sweet 16 matchup. We generally think the computers have been overrating Wisconsin this year. But, if they win this...then probably not! Is Wisconsin's defense really top five caliber nationally? Should this game really be a pick-em? Let's see what the boxscores from the round of 32 suggest.

LAST WEEKEND'S BOXSCORES

SYRACUSE 75, KANSAS STATE 59
Field Goal Pct: Kansas State 31%, Syracuse 51%
Three-Pointers: Kansas State 4/17, Syracuse 6/9
Free Throws: Kansas State 13/19, Syracuse 23/29
Rebounds: Kansas State 37, Syracuse 31
Turnovers: Kansas State 13, Syracuse 14
Phantom Score: Kansas State 71, Syracuse 65
Vegas Line: Syracuse by 6, total of 134.5

You can see what we mean about sharpness in the shooting percentage line. Syracuse isn't the best of Phantom Score teams because they don't rebound well out of the zone. For you newcomers, Phantom Score is simply two-point scoring plus rebounding. We've found it to be a great secondary score for evaluating college basketball games. It IS possible to overcome poor performances in that stat as long as you make some treys and force turnovers. Syracuse did that vs. K-State, though was a bit too turnover prone themselves. We're not saying the recent problems have all been forgotten. But, Syracuse did look less vulnerable after this game than they had for several days prior. A great game vs. Wiscy, and the Orange are back in the championship discussion.

WISCONSIN 60, VANDERBILT 57
Field Goal Pct: Vanderbilt 44%, Wisconsin 42%
Three-Pointers: Vanderbilt 5/19, Wisconsin 10/33
Free Throws: Vanderbilt 12/16, Wisconsin 4/8
Rebounds: Vanderbilt 32, Wisconsin 27
Turnovers: Vanderbilt 12, Wisconsin 9
Phantom Score: Vanderbilt 62, Wisconsin 53
Vegas Line: Pick-em, total of 121

This one went right down to the wire...and it really could have gone either way at the very end. Wisconsin needed to reach double digits in treys to trump their weakness in Phantom Score. Note that they were +15 in scoring from behind the arc in a game they only won by three. Let's note that low turnover mark of just nine for the Badgers. That's exactly what you need against the Syracuse zone. Be smart with the ball and make some treys. You can probably say that the whole ballgame is going to be based on whether or not the Badgers make their bombs. A win is easily within reach if they can make at least 9-10. They're going to have big troubles if nothing's falling from long range. Volatile scenario.

To answer our original question...are the computers right and this game is more like a pick-em? Inside generally trumps outside in this sport, justifying the Vegas spread. It will likely all come down to Wisconsin's three-point production.

OHIO STATE (2) VS. CINCINNATI (6)
Cincinnati: 26 in Sagarin, 25 in Pomeroy, 49 on offense, 22 on defense
Ohio State: 2 in Sagarin, 1 in Pomeroy, 6 on offense, 1 on defense
Vegas Line: Ohio State by 7.5, total of 130

A storied matchup in terms of the state of Ohio, even if the game is being played in St. Louis. Ohio State has clear edges across the board in terms of the computers. But, Cincinnati is arguably playing better right now than those ratings would suggest. They did reach the finals of the Big East tournament after all, then outbattled Texas and Florida State in tough Dance draw (certainly a lot tougher than facing Loyola-Maryland and Gonzaga). If the computers have been guilty of overrating the Big Ten all year, then this game will be close than the spread.

LAST WEEKEND'S BOXSCORES

OHIO STATE 73, GONZAGA 66
Field Goal Pct: Gonzaga 39%, Ohio State 48%
Three-Pointers: Gonzaga 8/24, Ohio State 9/24
Free Throws: Gonzaga 14/19, Ohio State 14/18
Rebounds: Gonzaga 31, Ohio State 25
Turnovers: Gonzaga 9, Ohio State 11
Phantom Score: Gonzaga 59, Ohio State 57
Vegas Line: Ohio State by 7.5, total of 135.5

Ohio State finally made some treys, which is something they hadn't been doing much of in recent weeks. You can see that not much really separated them from Gonzaga in this one. There extra points from long range, a couple of extra possessions thanks to an edge in the turnover department. We're generally not fans of Gonzaga...so this isn't a blockbuster stat summary from the Buckeyes perspective. We will say that they're certainly going to be tough to beat if the treys keep falling at that volume. But, if they relapse to prior recent form...this will be another Sweet 16 game they'll have to sweat. You'll recall that Kentucky took them out at this point last year when Kentucky was a #4 seed and Ohio State was a #1 expecting to go the distance.

CINCINNATI 62, FLORIDA STATE 56
Field Goal Pct: Cincinnati 38%, Florida State 38%
Three-Pointers: Cincinnati 5/15, Florida State 6/17
Free Throws: Cincinnati 19/23, Florida State 12/15
Rebounds: Cincinnati 30, Florida State 28
Turnovers: Cincinnati 15, Florida State 17
Phantom Score: Cincinnati 58, Florida State 54
Vegas Line: Florida State by 2, total of 127

Cincinnati is a grinder who tries to win wrestling matches. That type of team has given Ohio State trouble this year because Jared Sullinger gets frustrated easily. You know that Cincy has been watching tapes of OSU's games against Michigan State. We will be thinking about the Under here because of that possibility. Nothing that jumps out from the above game in terms of great upset potential. But, grinders can force games into being coin flips...and that's how many upsets happen. Ohio State lost a grinder to Kentucky in this round last year. This one could get very interesting. But, if the Buckeyes keep hitting treys, it's going to be difficult for anyone to take them out this weekend.

WEST REGIONAL IN PHOENIX

MICHIGAN STATE (1) VS. LOUISVILLE (4)
Louisville: 16 in Sagarin, 19 in Pomeroy, 113 on offense, 2 on defense
Michigan State: 3 in Sagarin, 3 in Pomeroy, 7 on offense, 3 on defense
Vegas Line: Michigan State by 5, total of 125

Michigan State may not be quite as good as those rankings because of a late season injury to a key contributor. But, they have a history of playing better than their computer rankings in the Dance anyway...so maybe it all cancels out. Louisville is another Big East team that will try to get you into a wrestling match. We think the biggest issue for them here will be that 113th ranked offense facing the 3rd ranked defense of the Spartans. Louisville has trouble scoring on anything beyond putbacks vs. good defenses. They did hit some treys vs. New Mexico as you'll see in a moment. Tough to do that two times in a row.

LAST WEEKEND'S BOXSCORES

MICHIGAN STATE 65, SAINT LOUIS 61
Field Goal Pct: Saint Louis 35%, Michigan State 54%
Three-Pointers: Saint Louis 7/25, Michigan State 4/10
Free Throws: Saint Louis 18/23, Michigan State 11/17
Rebounds: Saint Louis 25, Michigan State 29
Turnovers: Saint Louis 6, Michigan State 11
Phantom Score: Saint Louis 47, Michigan State 71
Vegas Line: Michigan State by 7, total of 123.5

Michigan State won Phantom Score huge here. But, a lack of trey production sometimes allows opponents to hang around and give a run at the number late in the game. That's what happened here, as Saint Louis hit a couple of late bombs that shrunk the lead to a misleading final tally. Michigan State was more dominant than the final score would have suggested (shooting percentages should really jump out at you). But, Louisville could do the same thing Saint Louis did in terms of hanging around the spread late in the game. And, the Cards could definitely pull off a surprise if the Spartans have a cold spell.

LOUISVILLE 59, NEW MEXICO 56
Field Goal Pct: New Mexico 40%, Louisville 46%
Three-Pointers: New Mexico 5/23, Louisville 7/15
Free Throws: New Mexico 5/8, Louisville 8/12
Rebounds: New Mexico 33, Louisville 29
Turnovers: New Mexico 13, Louisville 11
Phantom Score: New Mexico 69, Louisville 53
Vegas Line: Louisville by 1, total of 128

Louisville blew most of a 15-point second half lead before barely hanging on. You can see they lost Phantom Score by quite a bit. This sure isn't a year so far where we're seeing that category connect with greatness! College basketball keeps evolving...maybe we'll have to invent a new stat. Cards did a good job from long range percentage-wise, while New Mexico got a bit panicky and couldn't hit a strong percentage. They still rallied anyway! Both Michigan State and Louisville won their conference tournaments last week...so they're as prepared for postseason play as anyone could be. We think Michigan State has a lot more going for it in terms of the complete game. That may have us thinking about the Spartans at this price. We'll also have to consider the Under given the caliber of these defenses.

MARQUETTE (3) VS. FLORIDA (7)
Florida: 11 in Sagarin, 13 in Pomeroy, 3 on offense, 74 on defense
Marquette: 10 in Sagarin, 15 in Pomeroy, 28 on offense, 16 on defense
Vegas Line: Marquette by 1.5, total of 144.5

The computers have this game as a virtual pick-em...and the market only makes Marquette a slight favorite. Clearly, there's a consensus that Florida deserved much better than a #7 seed! But, they caught a break when Missouri fell out ahead of them...basically resulting in a pathway that a better seed would have been given anyway. Florida deserved better than a #7, but they've only had to face a #10 and a #15 to get here. Marquette didn't exactly have a murderer's row themselves...beating an exhausted BYU team in the round of 64 before drawing overseeded Murray State in the round of 32.

LAST WEEKEND'S BOXSCORES

MARQUETTE 62, MURRAY STATE 53
Field Goal Pct: Murray State 31%, Marquette 38%
Three-Pointers: Murray State 4/21, Marquette 4/15
Free Throws: Murray State 9/10, Marquette 16/21
Rebounds: Murray State 41, Marquette 36
Turnovers: Murray State 16, Marquette 12
Phantom Score: Murray State 73, Marquette 70
Vegas Line: Marquette by 5.5, total of 142

A wild game where it was a lot more fun to watch the frantic up and down pace than it was to watch the rim. Both teams had long stretches where they couldn't make shot. You could argue that Murray State never really figured out how to score beyond putting back misses or beating everyone downcourt for a layup. Once again we have the team that lost Phantom Score advancing anyway. This time a free throw advantage was key. Turnovers appear to be trumping rebounds in many of these games...any new stat will have to reflect that phenomenon.

FLORIDA 84, NORFOLK STATE 50
Field Goal Pct: Norfolk State 27%, Florida 53%
Three-Pointers: Norfolk State 4/24, Florida 10/28
Free Throws: Norfolk State 10/13, Florida 18/25
Rebounds: Norfolk State 30, Florida 40
Turnovers: Norfolk State 8, Florida 13
Phantom Score: Norfolk State 58, Florida 76
Vegas Line: Florida by 14, total of 144

Florida put the game away early. There's not much reason to say anything beyond that! Norfolk had nothing left after stunning Missouri. Florida's Billy Donovan has learned how to take care of business in the Dance.

Does that give the Gators an edge Thursday vs. Marquette? We certainly respect history. But, we also respect defense, and Marquette has the clear advantage on that side of the ball.

We can't post our official selections here in our stat previews. That information is for paying customers. You can purchase Thursday's games a few hours before tipoff right here at the website. Or sign up for the rest of basketball by calling 1-800-323-4453.

Back tomorrow to preview Friday's games. But...

YOUR SWEET 16 STARTS TONIGHT, AND JIM HURLEY IS THROWING THE PARTY!

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