Sweet 16 Preview, Schedule: Tournament Darling Cornell Vs. Kentucky Highlights Tonight's Four-Game Slate

After three long days off, the NCAA Tournament is BACK. SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean has full previews and predictions of tonight's Sweet 16 action. Gus Johnson is involved, and America's darling, Cornell, takes on Kentucky. Can't. Contain. Excitement.

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Sweet Sixteen Preview, Schedule: Tournament Darling Cornell Vs. Kentucky Highlights Action

SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean, editor of Blogging The Bracket, has your rundown of Thursday and Friday's Regional Semifinal action in the NCAA Tournament, including announcer pairings and picks.

All games are on CBS, check your local listings to see your affiliate's choices. You can watch all the games at NCAA® March Madness on Demand®

Thursday night sees action in the West and East regions.

West Regional

Gus Johnson and Len Elmore will have the call for the doubleheader in Salt Lake City. 

Game 1: No. 5 Butler vs. No. 1 Syracuse, 7:07 p.m. ET

Road to the Regional
Bulldogs: Defeated UTEP, 77-59, and Murray State, 54-52
Orange: Defeated Vermont, 79-56, and Gonzaga, 87-65

The Orange had better be prepared to face a team that is a bit more defensively focused than either of their opening weekend opponents, which also happens to own a 22-game winning streak. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim mentioned Wednesday that Butler has played 10 straight games against teams operating a man defense, so the Orange's 2-3 zone may cause them some problems. Turnovers could be key, as the Bulldogs don't turn the ball over much and they know how to capitalize on their opponents' errors.

Arinze Onuaku's missing his third straight game thanks to an injured quad, on the surface, would appear to be an issue, given that Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard are both solid interior players for the Bulldogs. However, as Hayward has struggled offensively lately and foul-prone Howard has issues staying on the floor, that ends up being a push. (Seriously, I'm of the opinion that Howard's foul issues, particularly in Anaheim over Thanksgiving weekend ended up costing Butler a seed line or two.) If Rick Jackson can stay off the bench himself and DeShonte Riley can play the smart game he did against Gonzaga Sunday, the Orange should have enough to advance.

My pick: Syracuse

Read more at our Orange blog, Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician.

Game 2: No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 2 Kansas State, approx. 9:37 p.m. ET

Road to the Regional
Musketeers: Defeated Minnesota, 65-54, and Pittsburgh, 71-68
Wildcats: Defeated North Texas, 82-62, and BYU, 84-72

On the surface, this looks like a matchup between two evenly matched teams, but this wasn't the case when they met way back on December 8. That contest resulted in a 71-56 win for the Wildcats, as K-State dominated on both ends of the court. (The Musketeers didn't even break 30 percent from the field for the game.) Expect this one to be a bit more of a contest as Xavier star Jordan Crawford has matured considerably in the intervening three months, and the first weekend was his coming out party, as he averaged 27.5 points and 6 rebounds a game in the first two rounds. 

Both teams have capable scorers (Jacob Pullen, who took over in the second half of the December meeting, vs. Crawford) good point guards (Denis Clemente vs.Terrell Holloway) and talented forwards (Curtis Kelly vs. Jason Love). However, except in the case of Pullen vs. Crawford, the Wildcat player has a clear talent advantage. In terms of intangibles, Xavier has been to the Sweet 16 three straight times, while none of K-State's players were alive the last time they made the second weekend (1988). Love, Holloway, Jamel McLean and Kenny Frease all played on last year's Xavier squad that fell to Pitt at this stage, while the Wildcats will obviously be lacking the Musketeers' experience.

While both squads aren't afraid to get down and dirty, Frank Martin's team is a bit more tenacious on the defensive end, which should be the difference again.

My pick: Kansas State

Read more at our Wildcat blog, Bring On The Cats.

East Regional

Dick Enberg and Jay Bilas will be courtside in Syracuse.

Game 1: No. 11 Washington vs. No. 2 West Virginia, 7:27 p.m. ET

Road to the Regional

Huskies: Defeated Marquette, 80-78, and New Mexico, 82-64
Mountaineers: Defeated Morgan State, 77-50, and Missouri, 68-59

The Mountaineers suffered a blow with the news Tuesday that point guard Truck Bryant was lost for the Tournament with a broken foot. Bryant is allegedly WVU's "scoring" point guard, something that you wouldn't have figured out just by looking at his recent game log. (He hadn't scored in double figures since the 11 he put up against Georgetown on March 1, and he only managed 14 points combined in the next five games.) But he is among the team's top jump shooters and more of a threat than Joe Mazzula, who takes over at the point.  Our Mountaineer blog, The Smoking Musket, says the team's forwards will have to take on a greater role because of the lack of depth at the point guard slot.

Again, without another point guard on the bench, both Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler will see their ball handling duties to dramatically increase. Mazzulla can't play 40 minutes, so these two must deputize in his absence. Both have shown they are capable of doing exactly that, but when the stakes are this high, the element of doubt starts to rear its ugly head. 

The Mountaineers struggled on offense in Buffalo last week and advanced because they were able to shut down their two opponents. They'll have trouble doing that against Isaiah Thomas, Quincy Pondexter, and company, who are one of the hottest teams in the country right now. Our Washington blog, UW Dawg Poundcredits an emerging interior force with taking a lot of focus away from the Husky guards.

The thing that is driving this surge has been the play in the middle by Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Make no mistake that every Husky who hits the floor is contributing in a big way but the play of Bryan-Amaning is deflecting the pressure on Thomas and Pondexter. his extra push in the middle has helped Washington push its level of play up a couple of notches and the experts are noticing.

Of course, if the Mountaineers can force a free throw duel, they'll likely prevail, as they're just a bit better from the charity stripe. The Huskies beat New Mexico handily despite only hitting half their foul shots, and 68.8 percent against Marquette meant they needed a last-second Pondexter scoop shot to claim the win.

My pick: West Virginia

Game 2: No. 12 Cornell vs. No. 1 Kentucky, approx. 9:57 p.m. ET

Road to the Regional
Big Red: Defeated Temple, 78-65, and Wisconsin, 87-69
Wildcats: Defeated East Tennessee State, 100-71, and Wake Forest, 90-60

Two of the most impressive teams of the first weekend meet in Syracuse. Both teams are going to score, as each sits in the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. However, the Wildcats rate far higher than the Big Red in the adjusted defensive efficiency ratings (8th vs. 130th). Matt O'Brien points out that Cornell is actually the worst defensive team remaining in the field, making their two easy wins all the more impressive, but a lot of that has to do with some truly mind-boggling offensive numbers.

Cornell had an adjusted offensive efficiency of 158.6 points per 100 possessions through the first two rounds. To give you an idea of how absurd that is, the gap between Cornell and the second-best team (Kentucky) was larger than the difference between the second and eleventh teams.

Our Kentucky blog, A Sea Of Blue, examined the two teams' effective field goal percentages (eFG%) and came to the conclusion that even the Wildcats may struggle to stop Cornell. But that doesn't mean an upset is in the making.

...both Temple and Wisconsin are average offensive teams, both shooting right around 50% eFG% for the season. Kentucky is much, much better than either of them offensively, and the Big Red was unable to hold either Wisconsin or Temple below 50% eFG%. This augers very well for the Wildcats, because the offensive advantages Kentucky has over the Big Red are truly legion, and it hasn't much mattered to Kentucky whether opponents play zone, man, or junk.

Kentucky presents numerous matchup issue for Cornell, but one in particular stands out to me. Jeff Foote has been impressive inside for the Big Red, but he may struggle against the physical combo on DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. If Foote is limited inside, the Big Red will have to shoot more threes, which could result in one-and-done possessions and transition baskets for John Wall and the Wildcats. 

My pick: Kentucky

Follow Chris on Twitter, @BracketDobber, for his thoughts and reactions throughout Thursday and Friday evenings' action.

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