Virginia’s stingy defense, Louisville’s quest to become a repeat champion, three No. 1 seeds still alive, key injuries, surprises and Cinderellas — there are many story lines in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen. What should you keep an ear out for, though?
SiriusXM College Sports Nation breaks down the key match-ups, players and teams on SiriusXM channel 91 and on the SiriusXM App.
1. Can Virginia contain Michigan State’s half-court offense?
Adreian Payne has been called the X-factor to Michigan State’s success all tournament. In their second round match-up against Delaware, the senior forward had a career-high 41 points, including a perfect 17-for-17 at the free throw line. Virginia’s defense ranks at the top of college basketball, holding opponents to 55.5 points per game this season. Michigan State scored an average of 75.5 points per game this season.
SiriusXM College Sports Nation‘s Steve Lappas, the former head coach who led Villanova to four NCAA tournaments from 1994-1999, talked about the match-up this week on College Sports Today.
That Virginia team is very physical and make you play half court. Michigan State, because of their size, they’ve got Brandon Dawson, they’ve got Adreian Payne, that is the X-factor for them in terms of getting easy baskets. But one thing about Tom Izzo’s teams, year in and year out … they are always consistently one of the best half-court teams there is.
2. Can Iowa State advance without Georges Niang?
The star forward broke his foot six minutes into the Cyclones’ NCAA tournament opener against NC Central last weekend. Niang was Iowa State’s third-leading scorer and one of their best rebounders. Once considered a top contender to make it to the Final Four, Iowa State’s critics wonder whether the team has enough depth.
Mateen Cleaves was an All-American point guard on the 2000 NCAA champion Michigan State squad. Cleaves talked about teams overcoming tough injuries in the tournament, and discussed the keys to Iowa State’s success on SiriusXM College Sports Nation‘s Inside College Basketball.
When someone gets hurt, you have to have other guys that step up. Monte Morris has been stepping up in the tournament. The freshman point guard was averaging six points on the year, but in the NCAA tournament, he’s averaging 14. For him to come out and get 14 points, that helped just a little in the absence of Niang. Other guys coming off the bench, Naz Long, he shot the ball well, knocked down four three-pointers.
3. Will Stanford’s offense continue to succeed without a true point guard?
After losing guard Aaron Bright for the season following his dislocated shoulder injury, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins needed to come up with a new plan for their offense. With no other true point guards on the roster, the coaching staff was forced to get creative. They devised a plan to implement the triangle offense, a strategy which plays to the size of a team.
Dawkins, in his first NCAA Tournament as head coach, joined his former coach at Duke (where Dawkins played and was an assistant coach), Mike Krzyzewski, this week on Basketball and Beyond with Coach K, and discussed why the unique offense has worked for the Cardinals.
We’re a big team and that’s where our true strength lies and so we’re playing a lot smaller in the backcourt. A triangle [offense] affords you the opportunity to play big and you don’t need a true guard to run the system because the system would kind of run itself once the ball is entered. We really made a full commitment to just learn that system. We drill it quite a bit and you want it to become habit. They’re starting to realize the value of ball movement, ball reversals, limited dribbles … each kid has a strength, play to that strength. They’re doing that, and they’re getting the shots that they can make and that’s all you can ask for.
4. Will Tennessee fold under the pressure of the tournament?
As the No. 11 seed in the Midwest region, Tennessee is one of three double-digit seeds in the Sweet Sixteen. The Vols haven’t been as far as the Sweet Sixteen since 2008, and only a couple members of the team have played in the tournament before – as freshmen, in 2011.
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, in his third season, joined The Tim Brando Show on SiriusXM College Sports Nation this week, and talked about maintaining a level of calm for his team as they prepare to face No. 2 Michigan.
The one thing I’ve talked to our guys about everyday is staying focused, staying locked in, taking care of the task at hand, not getting consumed with everything on the surface and just be a family. But it’s easier said than done, because the stage is big and you’ve never been on this stage before and you’re excited as a basketball player. But for us as a staff, we need to keep our guys grounded and understand the task at hand, and there’s still a lot of work to be done.
SiriusXM will carry every game of this year’s tournament. For channel listings, head to siriusxm.com/ncaa. For expert analysis of the brackets, look no further than SiriusXM College Sports Nation, channel 91, and follow them on Twitter, @SiriusXMCollege.