The second half of Thursday night's Sweet 16 action begins with No. 6 seed Xavier taking on No. 2 Kansas State. The winner moves on to play the winner of the Butler/Syracuse meeting in the regional final on Saturday.
Here's how our own Blogging The Bracket's Chris Dobbertean sees Thursday night's game:
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
From the Sports Network preview:
Into the Sweet 16 for the third straight year, the Xavier Musketeers try to extend their 2009-10 campaign a bit longer as they challenge the Kansas State Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament West Regional Semifinal at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sixth-seeded Xavier, in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year and the ninth time in the last decade, defeated Minnesota in first round of the 72nd annual event last Friday with a 65-54 decision and then topped Pittsburgh by a mere three points, 71-68, in the second round two days later. Now with 26 wins on the season, the Musketeers have matched their fourth-highest total in program history as they chase the all-time mark of 30 victories stemming from their efforts in 2007-08.
As for the second-seeded Wildcats, back in the round of 16 for the 17th time in school history and the first time since 1988, they have won four of their last five outings, with the lone setback coming against top-ranked Kansas during the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
Kansas State, in the NCAA Tournament for the 24th time overall, took care of North Texas rather easily in the first round with an 82-62 triumph and then topped nationally-ranked BYU over the weekend in Oklahoma City with an 84-72 decision to advance. [...]
Trailing by three points in the first half against Pittsburgh last weekend, the Musketeers dialed up the offense and the defense as they put on a 16-0 scoring run and the team successfully avenged a loss to the Panthers in last year's NCAA Tournament. Jordan Crawford, who continues to go where few Xavier players have gone before, posted a game-high 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the floor, adding six rebounds, while Jason Love and Terrell Holloway accounted for 14 and 13 points, respectively. Only a sophomore, Crawford was named the Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year by a couple of media outlets and has scored at least 20 points in five straight outings. Through 34 games this season, Crawford is the top scorer in the A-10 with his 20.2 ppg, getting the job done with an impressive 40 percent shooting behind the three- point line. Also a sophomore, Holloway adds 11.7 ppg to the attack and has delivered on 132 assists to players like Love who, in this his senior season, has ratcheted up his production with 11.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 50 blocked shots. [...]
Kansas State 80, Xavier 69