Sweet 16 Preview, Schedule: St. Mary's, Northern Iowa Try Their Hand At This Cinderella Thing

SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean, editor of Blogging The Bracket, has your rundown of 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®

On Friday, action shifts to the Midwest and South. Much like last week, the Friday games will have much to live up to, thanks to Thursday's thrillers in Salt Lake City.

Midwest Regional

Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery will be on hand in St. Louis.

Game 1: No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Ohio State , 7:07 p.m. ET

Road to the Regionals
Volunteers: Defeated San Diego State, 62-59, and Ohio, 83-68
Buckeyes: Defeated UC Santa Barbara, 68-51, and Georgia Tech, 75-66

When Bruce Pearl suspended four players after they were arrested on drug and weapons charges at the beginning of 2010, did you think the Volunteers would be here? How about after he kicked Tyler Smith off the team for his role in the events? Tennessee has really come together as a unit, topping the top-ranked team twice in Knoxville, but a 29-point defeat at the hands of Kentucky in the SEC semifinals put a bit of doubt in the minds of many. Those concerns weren't necessarily wiped out with two wins last week in Providence.

The Volunteers, who rank 7th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy will face a significant challenge against Ohio State, who rates 8th in adjusted offensive efficiency, particularly as the Buckeyes are a bit stronger inside the three-point line, which is where the Vols struggle a bit more on the defensive end. Our Tennessee blog, Rocky Top Talk, points out that Thad Matta is likely to call upon his players to drive to the basket and get to the foul line, following the pattern of the 2007 meeting between these two teams at this stage of the Tournament.

Then you have to consider the Evan Turner factor. Sure, David Lighty and Jon Diebler are dangerous, but Turner can cause trouble anywhere on the court (for example, 24 points, 9 boards, 9 assists and 3 steals against Georgia Tech, alongside a troubling 9 turnovers). Look at how the Vols "handled" John Wall in that Kentucky game. While they were able to limit him to 14 points, he had 9 assists, meaning DeMarcus Cousins was able to do a lot of damage inside. Could that be Dallas Lauderdale's role in this one?

My pick: Ohio State

Read more at our Buckeye blog, The Buckeye Battle Cry.

Game 2: No. 9 Northern Iowa vs. No. 5 Michigan State, approx. 9:37 p.m. ET

Road to the Regional
Panthers: Defeated UNLV, 69-66, and Kansas, 69-67
Spartans: Defeated New Mexico State, 70-67, and Maryland, 85-83

The storylines here are pretty obvious. How will Northern Iowa respond to the spotlight that has suddenly enveloped them since Saturday's stunning win over Kansas? And, how will Michigan State play without Kalin Lucasout with a torn Achilles tendon? The Panthers are known for being a smart, steady team with a consistent temperament. Will this change after a week in the national limelight?

UNI isn't a hot shooting team, as they didn't break 45 percent in either of their first two games. But they are timely in their makes (Ali Farokhmanesh, anyone?) and deadly from the foul line. Our Michigan State blog, The Only Colors, says the Panthers resemble one of the Spartans' most familiar foes.

This is a deep, balanced, veteran team. But their offensive numbers don't exactly leap off the page. That's partly a function of the fact UNI plays the game of basketball at a glacially slow pace--59 possessions per game. That's good for 3rd slowest in the country. Even Wisconsin plays with (slightly) more hop in their step than these guys do.

Like Wisconsin, the Panthers' clear offensive strength is taking care of the ball. They've turned it over on just 18.0% of possessions this season.

For the Spartans, Korie Lucious is a question mark, even with his game winner against Maryland on Sunday. He struggled in the one game he started in place of Lucas, February 6th at Illinois (4 points, 3 assists, 6 turnovers), and the team has been inconsistent lately period. The win against the Aggies was due to their ability to get to the free throw line more often than their opponent, a mistake Northern Iowa isn't likely to make. The victory against the Terps could have been a loss had Maryland converted on more of the Spartans' 18 turnovers. With a lack of backcourt depth and the ballhandling that inevitably result, the Spartans could give the Panthers extra chances to score or run down the clock.

My pick: Northern Iowa

Read more at our Michigan State blog, The Only Colors.

South Regional 

Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg are assigned to Houston before they head to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

Game 1: No. 10 St. Mary's vs. No. 3 Baylor, 7:27 p.m. ET

Road to the Regional
Gaels: Defeated Richmond, 80-71, and Villanova, 75-68
Bears: Defeated Sam Houston State, 68-59, and Old Dominion, 76-68

Omar Samhan was undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of the first weekend, putting up 29 and 12 against Richmond and 32 and 7 against Villanova. Mr. Samhan meet Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers, who will be a far stiffer challenge inside than anything either the Spiders or Wildcats were able to offer in Providence. This is particularly true on the boards, where Old Dominion's Gerald Lee struggled mightily Saturday, grabbing only one rebound on the evening.

In the backcourt, LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter will be an interesting matchup for Matthew Dellavedova and sharpshooter Mickey McConnell, especially as Carter and his backup, A.J. Walton are a bit more creative from a playmaking perspective than the Gaels' backcourt stars.

Matt O'Brien says that the Bears' are a dangerous opponent because while they aren't quite firing on all cylinders, they're tantalizingly close.

Especially heartening for Baylor fans should be that their defense -- their ostensible weakness -- has picked up the past few games. If this newfound commitment on the defensive end continues, and they get back to their usual scoreboard-lighting ways, watch out.

My pick: Baylor

For more on this one, visit our Big 12 Hoops blog.

Game 2: No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 1 Duke, approx. 9:57 p.m. ET

Road to the Regional
Boilermakers: Defeated Siena, 72-64, and Texas A&M, 63-61 (OT)
Blue Devils: Defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 73-44, and California, 68-53

The Boilermakers have stunned many so-called experts (including yours truly) who figured they were in for a very short stay this tournament. Matt Painter's team has turned on the defense (62.5 ppg in the Tournament, while holding both opponents to field goal percentages in the low to mid 30s), but the offense is still struggling without Robbie Hummel (shooting only in the low to mid 40s with double-digit turnovers in both efforts), which is going to be a challenge against Duke.

Our Purdue blog, Hammer And Rails, thinks a win is possible, but it will take a true team effort for it to happen.

This game will be won by Purdue if we can provide constant general disruption on defense to their offensive flow. We have to challenge every pass and every shot. We have to drag them down into our style of basketball. Duke can be beaten. They have some bad losses and a few too close for comfort wins against teams they should dominate.

The Blue Devils had no trouble with either one of their first two opponents, even with Jon Scheyer struggling last time out (7 points on a 1 for 11 effort against Cal). Pomeroy's numbers indicate that the Boilermakers are a bit stronger on interior defense than on the perimeter, but Duke has more manpower inside, led by Brian Zoubek and the Plumlees, meaning JaJuan Johnson will have his hands full. The Blue Devils are more consistent on the scoring front too, thanks to the efforts of Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Their presence will make the Boilermakers' task that much more difficult.

My pick: Duke

Read more at our Blue Devil blog, Duke Basketball Report.

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

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